The unbeaten Marlborough Boys' College First XV officially established themselves as contenders for the 2013 Press Cup title on Saturday, when they knocked over defending champs Christchurch Boys' High School 20-12 on the MBC front field.
Built on a powerful first half display and resolute second half defence, the victory in the opening round of the Crusaders Region Secondary Schools competition top eight playoffs was one to savour. It was not only MBC's first win since 2008 over the seven-time Press Cup winners, but just the third time ever MBC has defeated Christchurch Boys'.
Thanks to their willingness to keep the ball in hand, the ability of their big forwards to get over the advantage line and out-enthuse their opposition at the ruck, MBC controlled the first half.
They scored three well-constructed tries, two to No 8 Sekope Lopeti and the other a brilliant team effort finished off by first five-eighth TC Campbell, to hold a 20-9 advantage at the break.
Christchurch Boys' reduced the deficit to eight shortly after halftime, but that was where the scoring ended. MBC's organised, committed defence denied the visitors further points, and a lack of execution meant MBC missed a four-try bonus point.
Christchurch first five-eighth Myles Thoroughgood and MBC fullback Mitch Smith traded early penalties before Lopeti scored the first try after 11 minutes. After his forwards opened up holes in the defence, Campbell made a strong burst and fed second five-eighth Adam Smith, who was dragged down a metre short. Two phases later Lopeti barged over.
Thoroughgood's second penalty made it 8-6, but on 11 minutes MBC were in again. Noticing Christchurch were thin out left, MBC took a quick tap from a penalty 40m out and the ball was passed between more than half a dozen players, including several forwards, before Campbell scored.
Smith's wide conversion made it 15-6 and although Thoroughgood soon made it 15-9, MBC were still well on top when Lopeti scored his second, right on halftime.
Once again willing to run the ball and offload in their own half, and continuing to roll their big forwards through the midfield, MBC eventually reached the Christchurch line and a few phases later Lopeti busted a tackle to stretch out and score.
Thoroughgood landed his fourth penalty early in the second half, but MBC were soon back in enemy territory. They were unable to capitalise and when the visitors eventually cleared their line, their best period of the match followed.
Christchurch camped in MBC territory for about 15 minutes and on a couple of occasions threatened to score. However, the defence held strong, despite some handling errors, and MBC finally got off their own line and back into Christchurch's half.
Fittingly, MBC finished the match in control and came close to bagging a bonus point several times in the dying stages. Even though they were unable to do so, it did not diminish the celebrations when referee Peter Tolan signalled fulltime.
The MBC starting XV played the entire match and all 15 played their part. Lopeti, captain Atu Moli and fellow prop Bevan Moody were a key source of go-forward ball, while locks Michael Tu'ipulotu and Cody Weir led a dominant MBC lineout and were also prominent ball-carriers.
Openside flanker Braden Stewart and hooker Abe Rood put in tireless displays.
Experienced midfielders Adam Smith and Zac Harrison-Jones were strong, particularly on defence, with halfback Curtis Pedersen-Line and Campbell creative on attack. Backs Tailah Love, Chad Ternent and Mitch Smith didn't get a lot of opportunity, but were often involved.
MBC coach Gray Cornelius said his nerves were "pretty shot" after a disjointed second half, but was understandably proud of what his side had achieved.
"A lot of pride. The boys prepared really well and their character was shown in our defence."
He pinpointed the breakdown and defence as the areas he was most pleased with and said their confidence to attack from anywhere came from confidence in their ruck work and getting the ball back.
MBC have three more matches left in the top eight playoffs and, despite being delighted with the win, Cornelius said it was not the perfect performance and his team needed to remain focussed.
"We have St Bede's [in Christchurch] next week and they will be better again. That's only one of four and we know it's not going to get any easier, so our preparation for next week starts now and we need to keep our feet on the ground.
"This is being picky, but we should have put the game to bed with 20 minutes to go and we should have maybe got a bonus point too."
AT A GLANCE
MBC 20 (Sekope Lopeti 2, TC Campbell tries, Mitch Smith, con, pen)
Christchurch Boys' High 12 (Myles Thoroughgood 4 pen).
Other Press Cup top eight results:
Nelson College 27 Christ's College 13,
Ashburton College 25 St Thomas' College 8,
St Bede's College 71 Roncalli College 3.
- The Marlborough Express
Who will win the Press Cup on Saturday, 2.30pm, Lansdowne Park, Blenheim?