Relief was the overwhelming emotion for the NZ King Salmon Marlborough Boys' College First XV who scored a hard-fought 25-20 first-round Press Cup victory over Christ's College in Blenheim on Saturday.
MBC went into the halftime break trailing 15-7 after their own handling errors and a persistent Christ's College outfit stopped the home team from finding any fluency. But a more dominant second half performance from MBC enabled the defending champions to work their way back into the match and eventually claim four competition points.
"It's good to get the win," said MBC coach Gray Cornelius. "It's good to get the campaign under way."
MBC got off to a screaming start when first-five TC Campbell showed his class by dissecting Christ's defensive line before stepping the fullback and dotting down beside the posts.
However, the outstanding individual effort was one of the only first-half highlights for MBC in an opening stanza performance that typified an early-season outing.
Constant handling errors prevented the home side gaining any ascendancy in the first 35 minutes while a struggling lineout meant MBC were unable to launch from their set pieces.
Compounding MBC's struggles was a determined Christ's College side which aimed to play the match in MBC's half of the field, a stiff breeze not allowing the home side to clear the ball and relieve pressure.
Christ's were also successful in converting their pressure into points. The visitors' first try came after 14 minutes when first-five James Southby crafted a shrewd grubber kick into MBC's in-goal for impressive lock Ben Morris to dive on and score.
Christ's continued to control possession. Seven minutes before halftime hooker Jesse Sullivan scored in the corner thanks to a clever short-throw lineout move five metres from MBC's line, giving the visitors a well-deserved eight-point lead at the break.
MBC went into the break knowing consistent mistakes had enabled Christ's to build pressure and play the match where they chose, and Cornelius' halftime comments were simple.
"The message was pretty clear - look after the ball and play in the right half of the field," he explained. "It's not much good playing rugby in [MBC's half] of the field and not respecting the ball. We didn't commit enough numbers to the breakdown and we didn't ruck well enough."
His words obviously had an effect as MBC came out in the second spell a different side.
Committed breakdown work and longer periods on attack enabled the home side to reverse the first half trend by pressurising Christ's defence and making the visitors play from their own half.
Powerful number eight Sekope Lopeti was destructive with ball in hand while openside flanker Braden Stewart was tireless in defence and successful in disrupting Christ's at the breakdown.
It didn't take long for MBC to create their first scoring opportunity of the second spell with impressive lock Hopoate Taufa denied in the left corner thanks to scrambling defence from Christ's. From the resulting scrum, Lopeti took the ball from the back and was able to bulldoze his way over the line to score in the 43rd minute.
MBC continued to trouble Christ's defence thanks to front-foot ball and penetrating runs from hard-running second five Nick de Boo and centre Zac Harrison-Zones with fullback Mitch Scott putting the home side in front with a penalty goal after Christ's were caught offside.
The home side then scored their 15th unanswered point when Smith sliced through the defence to score thanks to an inside ball from Campbell within the visitors' 22, putting Marlborough ahead 22-15.
But Christ's rallied in the final 10 minutes and Morris dotted down again for the visitors after some slick hands from the men inside him. Southby was unable to square the match with his sideline conversion and MBC were able to hold out, Smith landing a last-minute penalty to complete a 25-20 win.
The scoreline was a fair reflection of MBC's dominance in a second half that saw them play with more commitment and physicality, but Cornelius explains there is plenty to work on.
"We weren't looking after each other at ruck time," he explained. "We didn't respect the ball enough and tended to lose it in contact or throw it away or get turned over."
MBC travel to Christchurch on Saturday to take on St Andrews.
AT A GLANCE
Score: Marlborough Boys' College 25 (TC Campbell, Sokepe Lopeti, Mitch Smith tries, Smith 2 pen 2 con) Christ's College 20 (B Morris 2, J Sullivan tries, J Southby pen, con) HT, 15-7 Christ's College.
Other results: Rangiora 9-24 Nelson; Burnside 25-19 Roncalli; St Andrews 24-19 Ashburton; Timaru 24-10 Lincoln HS; Waimea 26-18 St Thomas; St Bede's 35-0 Shirley BHS.