A third placing at the South Island tournament for the Nelson Bays under-18 rugby team is a credible achievement in itself but the experience gained has been "invaluable" for all players and six of the starting eight forwards who will return in 2013.
The hard-nosed forwards complemented by exciting and pacy backs came within two minutes of making the finals at the Belfast RFC in Christchurch but bounced back to obliterate their opponents in the play-off for third and fourth on Sunday.
Nelson's quarterfinal against Mid-Canterbury was won 24-17 by Nelson Bays thanks to a solid second-half effort.
An awful start laced with a complacent attitude gave a determined Mid-Canterbury side a chance to dominate the breakdowns. Mid-Canterbury scored two early tries, which resulted from poor tackling and other Nelson Bays mistakes, to lead 17-0 at the break.
After a stern talking to at halftime by the coaches and some effective use of the bench, Nelson Bays fought back, scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half.
Tries went to Steve Soper, Ziggy Tu'ua, Tom Hill and Larry Banse, two of which were converted by Mitchell Hunt in Nelson's comeback win.
Saturday's semifinal against Southland was a hard-fought battle, played in atrocious conditions. The lead changed several times but a late try saw Nelson Bays lose 24-21.
First-half tries to Dan and Mike Curry and one conversion and one penalty by Mitchell had Nelson leading 15-7 at halftime in a much-improved performance. Nelson Bays put up a stern challenge but, in the end, the bigger Southland pack prevailed, scoring a pick-and-go try two minutes before fulltime.
A bruised and battered under-18 side bounced back from the disappointment of a semifinal loss, with an accomplished team victory. A 43-10 victory over Canterbury Development saw Nelson finish third overall.
The lineout and scrum performed particularly well, giving a solid platform for a slick back-line performance with all tries scored by the large numbers.
In the first half, centre Fletcher Matthews and wing Lote Saulekaleka scored tries, with Lote's converted by Mitchell, who also kicked three penalties in the first half for a 21-10 lead.
In the second half, Nelson Bays scored three unanswered tries by Fletcher, Lote and Luca Roden who also converted his own try.
Team manager Ray Hill said it was a great team effort, with Mitchell impressive at No 10 and Fletcher performing very well in his first start of the tournament at centre.
Back in Nelson, the Tasman Rugby Union had been taking a keen interest in the results.
"This was a really good effort from the 18s among some top teams and we are really pleased with result," said Mike Kerrisk, operations manager at the Tasman Rugby Union.
"There have been fantastic results all round at the South Island tournament, when you look at the provinces we are up against. It comes down to numbers and to see Nelson Bays punching towards the top is very pleasing."
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