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Luisetti Seeds Division 1 - Update
The strength of the competition this year is that there is no obvious favourite. North Canterbury front-runner Ashley (Pictured, and below story) is regarded by some as the team to beat although any punter would be brave to put their money on any team. Simply, the competition is wide open.
Ashley take on Saracens at home in one of the quarter-finals. Any pre-match favouritism is quickly scoffed by their co-coach John Blackadder. “We are under no illusions about how good Saracens is. They had a particularly good win last weekend and they will be right up for this match. What has gone before means nothing.”
That said, given their unbeaten streak Ashley will start slight favourites. They have shown in recent weeks an ability to come through in the most challenging of circumstances. As recently as last weekend they were behind against Kaiapoi with seconds remaining. The fact that they managed to pull through was testimony to their confidence and their belief in their own abilities.
Another side brimming with confidence is Waihora. Fresh from their centennial win against Lincoln and an upset win against reigning champions Southbridge last weekend, the Magpies travel to Rakaia for their quarter-final. “They are by definition a good side,” their co-coach Brent Lewis says. “They have a very strong pack and their backs are useful.” “We are playing with confidence after beating Southbridge but we did not play too well against Glenmark the week before. We are building though.”
Rakaia are deserving of their home quarter-final: having consistently been strong throughout. Yet it may be that Waihora will start favourites: they have shown this season that when it counts they are able to handle pressure. If they win enough possession they should win.
Perhaps the most interesting match-up in the quarter-finals is the clash of the red and black sides: Lincoln and Oxford. Both teams have had their moments this season: Oxford in particular was outstanding against Southbridge away from home. Lincoln may have gone off the ball somewhat and do not appear to have recovered after losing Waihora’s centennial match. Still, Lincoln may have one big match left in them this season: Lincoln to win.
In the other quarter-final Southbridge play Celtic. Southbridge has been up and down this season but after their lost to Waihora at the weekend they will be up for this match and should be too strong for the Mid Canterbury club.
Ashley Having a Season to Remember
Ashley co-coach John Blackadder is a happy man. Leading into the Luisetti Seeds Combined Country competition quarter-finals this weekend he knows his side has developed the character and spirit to go further.
“Both (co-coach) Murray (Cameron) and I have been happy with the way the guys have been playing and the spirit they have showed. Still, it is what happens over the next weeks that to some degree will define our season.”
Ashley’s story is one of a side on the rise. There were murmurings last season that they were one to watch: they made the semi-finals of the North Canterbury competition before being tipped over by Oxford. Yet this season they have put wins together, including a 16-11 defeat of Lincoln. They should now fear no one.
Ashley’s story this season began even before their pre-season. Runs through the Ashley Forest helped make the team super fit and helped bond the side.
“They are a great bunch,” John says. “We are a really efficient side. We are certainly balanced. We have no real stars and I think that has helped us build team spirit.”
John believes his side’s win against Lincoln was their best to date, although he has been impressed by the character that his side has displayed. “Against Kaiapoi we were 19-16 down with a few seconds remaining but we managed to come through with a converted try.”
John says that both the combined country and North Canterbury competitions are equally as important. “We take one game at a time and do our best and so the focus this week will be on Saracens and our quarter-final.”
Team ethos first and foremost: that is the Mantra Still, Ashley does have stars. Prop James Young has been a stand-out, while front-rower James Lowe has been strong. Loose forward Matt King has been dynamic as has veteran Warren Frew (who recently played his 150th match for the club). In the backs Andrew Dunbar has shone.
Ashley’s run in the combined competition has got tongues wagging in their local area. Club officials say the club’s bar has turned over more money this season than ever before. “Everyone is happy,” John laughs. “That’s what winning does. It’s certainly good for everyone.”
John admits that with success comes pressure. “But it is a good pressure. We are getting great crowds to our games whether home and away. Long may it continue.”
After a round of local sub-union rugby the focus moves back to the Luisetti Seeds Combined Country competition this weekend with four mouth-watering quarter-finals.
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