Staunch Southbridge retain title
The problem with Southbridge being the defending Country club rugby champions is that everybody was out to knock them over.
After picking up their first piece of senior rugby silverware in 27 years last year, when they won the combined country final, the men from the tiny Ellesmere town have had a huge mark on their back this season.
But Southbridge rose to the challenge and on Saturday cast aside any misconceptions that their victory of 12 months ago was a fluke and defended the title, beating last year's finalists Lincoln 23-15 in front of their home crowd.
What they produced was hardly flawless rugby, but it was a victory built on passion, determination and belief that they weren't just a team of one trick ponies.
And for their inspirational captain, Shannon Donald, victory was just as sweet as it was last year.
"Mate, this is just awesome," he said.
"To come back this season and win again is something really special, and to do it with the same core group of guys makes it all the better.
"We aren't team-mates, we are brothers.
"There has been a monkey on our back all year, and we have been really determined to overcome that, so I am just so proud of what we have achieved."
Donald himself was a catalyst of the success.
The left-footed No 10 was the picture of calm for his team throughout the match and his vision and kicking in general play would have been rewarded with praise from the districts favourite first-five Dan Carter.
Spurred on by a dominant display from their forward pack, the Southbridge backs were allowed to stretch their legs and second-five Peni Manumanuniliwa certainly did that.
The big Fijian was a constant headache for Lincoln and on two occasions they proved no match for him as he crossed for tries.
He scored in the middle stages of the first half after both sides had exchanged blows for much of the first 20 minutes, and then again inside the last 15 minutes to give his side a buffer that was to prove a bridge too far for Lincoln.
Southbridge led 20-3 with just over 15 minutes to play after Manumanuniliwa's second which followed on from a brilliant try by Willie McGoon, but Lincoln never gave up.
They were awarded a penalty try with 10 minutes to play before Jason Lamborne scored in the dying stages of the match.
"We knew they would keep coming at us," Donald said.
"So it was just a case of trying to keep the ball in hand, and not let them see too much of it which we did pretty well, I thought."
Despite the loss, Lincoln will still take plenty into the second half of their season where they are destined to clash with Southbridge again in the Ellesmere division one final.
Injuries in key positions didn't help their cause on Saturday, but scrappy play and plenty of mistakes did.
A year ago they turned around a defeat to Southbridge in the combined final to go on and beat them in the Ellesmere event - a little bit of history they are sure to be keen to repeat.
- © Fairfax NZ News