Press Cup victory brings smiles during troubling times
Sometimes the most enjoyable sporting occasions are the unexpected ones.
A few weeks ago a Press Cup final in Blenheim was far from the minds of even the most devoted Marlborough Boys' College First XV supporters. First, our team faced a tough semifinal against defending champs Christchurch Boys' High School while ahead lay the daunting challenge of unbeaten St Bede's, hot favourites to beat Nelson College in Christchurch. But the stars got into line and suddenly the showpiece of schoolboy rugby north of the Waitaki River was to be played in our backyard.
Plans were quickly put in place to stage the match at Lansdowne Park, an appropriate venue.
The college side became the talk of the town. It seemed everyone was heading for the park.
Provincial pride sprouted in the most unusual places. Even "non-rugby" folk professed an interest as the momentum built.
Could this be the year we finally get our hands on the Press Cup, the almost exclusive property of two powerful Christchurch schools, except when our final opponents, Nelson College, tasted success in 2007?
Could we now get the better of our traditional rivals from over the hill after drawing in pool play?
At a rain-lashed rugby headquarters those questions were answered in the affirmative, to the delight of a couple of thousand boisterous MBC supporters.
Inspirational skipper Atu Moli and his side played the game of their young rugby lives - a match and an occasion they will remember all their lives. Sticking rigidly to their game plan into the howling southerly, they turned with a one-point advantage. A try to the imposing Moli gave the home side a nine-point lead but, as good teams do, Nelson fought to the finish. Heroic and prolonged defence by all the MBC side, the kind that only teams with a special bond can produce, kept their rivals at bay long enough to ensure the match was theirs.
The final whistle signalled a pitch invasion from the northern end. While the groundsman may not have been impressed by so many happy feet leaping all over the hallowed turf, the sheer delight in a victory hard-earned was infectious.
As a former MBC first XV coach, involved in the 2006 and 2008 finals defeats, my emotions were close to the surface. We had finally done it. Despite the ever-increasing cost of playing in the competition, the debilitating travel schedule and the quality of their opposition, the Marlborough Boys' College First XV had come of age.
Congratulations to all associated with the 2013 campaign, from the parents to the manager, trainer, coaches and the players - the first from the college to reach the pinnacle. You have made your province proud, and put smiles on people's faces at a testing time.
On Saturday evening, Tasman kicked off their ITM Cup campaign in fine style with a 25-15 win over Southland in Invercargill.
While it was far from a flawless performance, the Makos looked the better side throughout.
New halfback Mark Swanepoel was one to catch the eye.
The Brumbies player's sharp clearance and abrasive style will suit the Makos hit-and-run approach. Imposing centres Andy Symons and Kieron Fonotia proved hard to contain, and will be a handful for any defence.
Up front, the pack handled the new-look scrum engagement well and showed more lineout accuracy than on some occasions previously.
It is interesting now to see referees handing out penalties for crooked scrum feeds which were, after all, a product of their own failings for so many years.
All in all, a good start for the Makos, which can be built on for the forthcoming match against Canterbury on Saturday, a much sterner challenge.
I was informed of a Facebook exchange prior to the Press Cup final between two Makos favourites, Andrew Goodman and Joe Wheeler. Last year's skipper Goodman, now plying his trade in Leinster, asked Wheeler: "Keen for a wee bet on the game tomorrow lad, maybe you in full Nelson College kit for a day".
Wheeler replied: "Yup, What about you having to sing the MBC college song in the Forum in MBC kit?"
"Deal!" said Goodman.
He may now be thinking of extending his Irish contract for another few years!
- The Marlborough Express
Who will win the Press Cup on Saturday, 2.30pm, Lansdowne Park, Blenheim?