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Ellesmere v North Canterbury - Clash of the Country
The Southbridge Shield is the closest thing that Canterbury rugby has to State of Origin football.
With Canterbury Country places at stake, it normally sees good friends take on each other, with the winner getting the opportunity to press their claim more.
While Ellesmere has beaten North Canterbury in each of the last three seasons, this year the men from the north appear to be stronger and certainly more determined.
“They have stepped up from last year, there is no doubt about that,” Ellesmere co-coach Wayne Gugich says.
“They appear very determined to reverse the recent trend, although we are also very hungry to keep winning,” Wayne says.
Ellesmere has had a solid, if not spectacular, build-up. A 30-21 loss to Marlborough was as much a case of a side that had not played together before as anything else. “We were rusty,” Wayne admits, “although it was important for us to get our combinations working.”
In their second warm-up match, they had a 14-7 win against Mid Canterbury in difficult conditions. Again, not too much can be read into that performance.
“We have been relatively happy with the way we have progressed,” Wayne says, “although we know that our season will be defined by our performance this Saturday. That is always the case with Ellesmere.”
With there being no Senior Ellesmere Club matches this weekend, the focus is very much on the Southbridge Shield.
You might think that Ellesmere might be somewhat complacent leading in to this match given that they have won the last three encounters between the sub-unions. Wayne says that that is anything but the case.
“I just know from seeing the guys train and prepare that they are up for this. Individually and collectively there is just so much at stake. Complacency will not be an issue I can assure you of that.”
As usual, this Ellesmere side has a number of talented individuals. Captain and loose forward Matt Lowe will likely once again be a dominant individual.
“He is an outstanding player and an extremely good leader,” Wayne says. “He always delivers for us and forms a really good combination with Blair Mcllroy (pictured middle right).”
Waihora utility Tom Broughton (pictured top right), who will probably play lock, is another who Ellesmere will depend on. Then there is the halves combination of first five-eight Scott Mitchell and veteran Lincoln half-back Jason Pietzner.
“We have some real talent within this side, although like all matches it will really come down to how we use it on the day. It is going to be a great encounter.”
Although Ellesmere may be looking like strong contenders to claim the shield for another year, North Canterbury goes into the match with plenty to prove. With Ellesmere having won the last three matches, it would be appear to the independent observer that the superiority has swung south rather than north.
“We’ve not had a lot of time to get things right, but we have made progress as you would expect,” North Canterbury selector Alex Wyllie says.
North Canterbury has won two of its three build-up matches. Their performances have generally been pretty good, although you get the feeling that their famous selector expects high standards from his troops, such as Casey Gibson (Pictured left).
“It really doesn’t matter if they are professional or amateur players, you expect them to do certain things and to continually improve,” Alex says.
Alex accepts that Ellesmere has had the better of proceedings in recent seasons and he knows that his side has a significant challenge ahead of it on Saturday.
“It’s about doing the basics right,” he says. “It’s about getting our set piece sorted out and making sure that we don’t make the same mistakes as we made against Marlborough.”
Alex says that a number of his players were a little sore last weekend due to a punishing round of club rugby in wet conditions. He is confident, however, that North Canterbury will play well at Darfield on Saturday. Kick-off is at 3pm.
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