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Luisetti Seeds Division 1 Final - Southbridge Champions Again
Those travelling to Southbridge for the Luisetti Seeds Combined Country final last Saturday were greeted with blue and white balloons lining the main street: it was an indication of the township’s pride in their rugby team and, perhaps, somewhat daunting for visiting players and fans.
As it turned out the Southbridge towns-folk had much to be proud of as their side won their second Country title on the trot with a 23-15 win against old foe Lincoln.
This was a final to savour: neither side played their best match of the season but the game was nonetheless absorbing. Southbridge, ahead for the entire match, was never able to totally put the red and blacks away.
The first half was essentially an arm wrestle between two giants. A huge defensive tackle by Southbridge prop Sam Carmen and a strong run by lock Brendon Stevens that almost led to the first try of the game were highlights.
Lincoln did concede the first try of the match: after 16 minutes some sloppy red and black defence saw Southbridge second-five Peni Manumanuniliwa cross. The score seemed to wake Lincoln. For the rest of the first half they were better than the home side. Their only reward for their efforts however was a Dale Eathorne penalty.
Southbridge won the final in the first 15 minutes of the second half. An early Shannon Donald penalty got the home side rolling. That was followed by an outstanding surge down the right side by fullback Willie McGoon (pictured).
McGoon’s try was significant: it swung the momentum firmly Southbridge’s way and it led to Lincoln heads dropping, perhaps indicating that it was very difficult to stop individual brilliance such as McGoon’s effort.
Southbridge continued to build momentum and it was not surprising when Manumanuniliwa was presented with a one on one situation close to the line which led to an inevitable try. Now up 20-3, Southbridge was dominant
Lincoln however stormed back like a wounded bull: a converted penalty try after 27 minutes was replied to by another Donald penalty. The red and blacks did not give up and were rewarded when Tau Manu scored. Eathorne’s conversion (to narrow the gap to six) missed. Lincoln continued to attack but they were out of time.
For Southbridge half-back Michael Sheat was outstanding, while Manumanuniliwa was creative with ball in hand. Stevens had a strong first half. For Lincoln young prop Kaleb Hamilton was magnificent. Centre Leonard van der Velde was prominent while winger Adie Greenslade was particularly active in the last fifteen minutes.
“It feels fantastic to win,” Southbridge coach Doug Maginness reflected, looking emotionally drained. “The build-up was very different to last year in the sense that then we were going into the unknown. This year we knew what to expect and it put more pressure on us.”
Maginness said last week’s postponement had not caused his side too much bother. “We gave the guys last weekend off and it let a few bodies recover.”
Maginness said that his side was lucky to have a number of game-breakers. “We have guys like Willie McGoon who can score tries like he did this afternoon.”
Maginness also paid tribute to his forward pack. “Nobody rates our forwards but they really stepped up today. What really impressed me was the way that they defended. We gave Lincoln few opportunities throughout.”
As in previous games between the clubs, Maginness said that it wasn’t until late in the match he felt confident of victory. “Twenty out from the finish I thought we had them but they scored that penalty try. When they missed the last conversion I felt that maybe time was on our side.”
Maginness said that his team was delighted to win a Country title in front of their home fans. “It feels very different being champions. All season everyone has wanted to tip us over, which was a real challenge for us.”
Lincoln co-coach Mike Rowe was realistic about where his side had lost the match. “It was the period immediately after half time,” he said. “We had worked on not giving their backs any room but we let them run then.”
Rowe said that while injuries to a number of key players in the preceding weeks had been a spanner in the works, he was proud of the way their replacements had responded. “We have had a big injury toll but no mistake: Southbridge is a very good side and they are not Luisetti Seeds Combined Country champions for nothing.”
Rowe said he was delighted with the way his young players had come on during the course of the competition. “Take a player like our young prop Kaleb Hamilton. He has come on in leaps and bounds and really grown.”
Lincoln’s focus is now on the Coleman Shield. “There is still silverware to play for and so the mood in our camp remains positive. We will be back, make no mistake.”
Photos - Ken Baker Photography
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