NZ King Salmon Marlborough Boys' College First XV will be without their influential centre and captain for the rest of the Press Cup rugby season after Zac Harrison-Jones broke his left leg during his side's 31-5 win over Lincoln High School in Blenheim on Saturday.
It's a huge loss for the defending champions, with Harrison-Jones not only an integral part of MBC's on-field attack but also influential in his side's organisation and leadership.
The injury comes five weeks after vice-captain and flanker Braden Stewart suffered a season-ending knee injury against Shirley Boys' High School, meaning MBC will play out the remainder of the season without their original leadership duo.
"It's a massive loss," said head coach Gray Cornelius. "Obviously [Harrison-Jones] is our captain but he's also been playing really good rugby so I just feel very sorry for him."
No 8 Sekope Lopeti will captain MBC for the remainder of the season.
Harrison-Jones fell awkwardly in a tackle in the 15th minute on the college front field, both sides having to wait over 50 minutes for him to be moved from the field by ambulance. The centre suffered a clean break to both his tibia and fibula, but Cornelius said his captain's thoughts were still with the team.
"His last words before going into the ambulance were ‘make sure we win with a bonus point'."
His calls were heeded, MBC recovering from the horrific injury to run in five tries and notch up their third bonus point win in a row. Cornelius was delighted at the way his team bounced back after the long injury break, MBC maintaining and controlling possession effectively to run in the tries and deny their opponents any real opportunities.
The day belonged to MBC first five TC Campbell, who set up three tries and bagged one himself thanks to dazzling footwork and electric speed. It's a continuation of a long run of impressive form from Campbell, the first five frequently breaking the line to provide plenty of opportunities for those outside him.
"He's playing very well," said Cornelius. "But he's only as good as the ball he gets."
It was a testament from Cornelius to the massive effort from MBC's forwards. Spearheaded by props Ty Bampton and Israel Hebberd, and lock Isaiah Miller, the home side established ascendancy at the breakdown.
And if the forwards did their job, the backs certainly did theirs. In a match dominated by whistle and injuries, MBC's backline looked dangerous when given the opportunity and capitalised on their scoring chances. Curtis Pedersen-Line provided good service from half back, while MBC's inside back combination of Campbell and second five Nick de Boo facilitated their side's attack. Meanwhile, Mitch Smith looked comfortable filling in for Harrison-Jones at centre, while winger Nigel Satherley made an impact off the bench.
It was more of the expansive play MBC's backs have shown in recent weeks that got them off to a rip-roaring start, scoring two tries in the opening six minutes. The first came after Campbell made a break 40 metres out before spreading it wide, Smith finishing in the left corner. The second came in similar fashion down the left side, Harrison-Jones finishing a Campbell-initiated attack to dot down under the bar. Bampton then got the front row on the score sheet in the 22nd minute, crashing over in the left corner thanks to another Campbell break.
Campbell then sealed the bonus point four minutes after half time, breaking several tackles from 20 metres out to score. The visitors did get one back, Lincoln No 8 and captain Ben Smylie the benefactor from a pushover maul. However, it was MBC's No 8 that had the last laugh, Lopeti's strength proving too much from 10 metres out to barge over.
The match ended on a slightly sour note when MBC prop Keegan Lane was sin-binned, while Lincoln hooker Marco van Dyk was sent from the field in the penultimate play of the match for foul play. Although Lincoln didn't pose the sternest challenge for MBC, it was a promising performance from the home side as the season nears the business end. MBC will certainly have to be at the top of their game on Saturday when they travel to Christchurch to play Boys' High.