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Luisetti Seeds Ellesmere and North Canterbury - Southbridge Shield Clash This Weekend
Photos - Ken Baker Photography
Spotlight on Ellesmere
Ellesmere co-coach Kahu Carey says that the Southbridge Shield is the one of, if not the biggest, occasion in Country rugby each season and that his players are excited by it.
"As a squad we are looking forward to it," he says of the match to be hosted by the Darfield club on Saturday. "It (the match) has come around in the blink of an eyelid, but it is always a highlight of the season for our players."
Ellesmere's preparation for its season-defining match may on the face of it be misleading. It has lost to Queensland Country and Mid Canterbury, although Kahu says that they played some good rugby in both matches.
Ellesmere has a relatively young squad this season with around 15 new players included. "We have had some injuries and other unavailabilities due to work commitments."
Although Ellesmere has won the last two Southbridge Shield matches, Kahu says that representative players often remember the losses more than the wins. "Tai Tapu 2013 stands out," he says of Ellesmere's loss that year. "That said, as coaches we want our players not to be scared to lose and to go out there at Darfield and express themselves."
Kahu, who is coaching Ellesmere this season with Terry Dalton and Michael Wilson, says that his squad has linked the future with the present. A couple of under-14 players from each of the local clubs that they have been training at have been invited along to train with the senior side.
"It's been a great way to remind our players about who they are representing. It's been a lot of fun: the young boys being hoisted at the lineouts and such like."
Ellesmere will have trained at seven local clubs by Saturday and so this initiative has been a great way to promote the heritage of playing for the sub-union. "Hopefully along the way we will have inspired some youngsters to follow their dreams."
Last season Ellesmere had a great player from the club they were training at, such as Joe Maddock at Prebbleton, come along and inspire Ellesmere's players. They year before a life member from the club they were training at came along to also provide perspective. "This is a great way to symbolise to the players that they represent much more than themselves."
Ellesmere will meet as squad for brunch on Saturday before travelling to Darfield together. "It's a great opportunity for players from both sub-unions to put their names forward for higher honours," Kahu says. "The Country squad will be named after the game and so this will be the last opportunity for players from both sub-unions to press their case for inclusion."
The sub-unions will also square-off in the Colts, Under-18 and Under-16 grades at Darfield on Saturday.
Spotlight on North Canterbury
The surnames Wyllie, Earl, Deans, Hopkinson and Blackadder have written their own chapters in North Canterbury rugby history and on Saturday at Darfield the new breed of sub-union player will do their bit to be included with such lofty company.
North Canterbury coach Shane Fletcher says that the thrill of playing in a Southbridge Shield match will inspire his players despite not having an ideal build-up. "We narrowly beat Queensland Country, although we will only have four trainings and the one match together and so it is not a lot of time."
North Canterbury's lack of preparation is not through want of trying. "I think we contacted every union in the South Island looking for opponents," Shane says, "but unfortunately we couldn't arrange anything else despite our efforts."
As a result of its limited preparation, Shane says that the focus for North Canterbury will be on doing the basics right and trying to implement an uncomplicated game-plan.
The North Canterbury squad contains eight new players this season. Among the newcomers is Oxford prop Jack Walsh, who is Irish, and another talented front-rower, Saracens' Morgan Pugh. "Our players are obviously excited about playing Ellesmere," Shane says, "but it is essential that they don't let the occasion get the better of them and they remain focused."
Another newcomer of sorts in the North Canterbury squad this season is Saracens loose forward Willy Kerr (profiled below), who is returning from serious injury, but who laced-up his boots for North Canterbury before his injury.
Like Ellesmere, North Canterbury's preparation for its biggest match of the season has included different methods to motivate their players. As an example, great North Canterbury players Hamish Black and Ben Frame will present the jerseys this year.
"Toddy Blackadder presented the jerseys last year. It is so inspiring for the current players to receive their jerseys from players who have been there and done that and helped create the traditions that we are all trying to uphold," Shane says
Country selection is another motivation for players from both sub-unions. "These are the games that players want to play in and so I have no doubt our guys will be up for it," Shane says.
A focus for North Canterbury will be on enjoying the occasion. "Sure there is pressure in these big matches, but it is important that our players to enjoy the challenge of it."
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