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Hawkins Division 1 Final - Lincoln University v Christchurch
LINCOLN UNIVERSITY FAVOURITES TO WIN HAWKINS TROPHY
Sunday's Final of the Hawkins Trophy is not only a tale of two clubs and their respective sides, but in essence two intriguing journeys. While there can of course only be one winner at Rugby Park, both teams can feel enormously proud of what they have achieved this season so far.
Christchurch's season story (outlined in the facing story) has essentially been rags to riches, although Lincoln University's has been no less interesting or memorable.
You will recall that Lincoln University has made a habit out of doing well in the Hawkins Cup earlier in a season before fading as the club year climaxes. They have not been chokers per se, but their script has had an all-too-familiar look about it.
This season has been different. Lincoln University have not lost a competition game, with their only blemish being a draw with Marist Albion. The upshot of their record is that they will begin the final this weekend as warm favourites.
Lincoln University co-coach John Haggart is philosophical about any pressure that his side faces in the build-up to the final. "While playing in a final will be a new experience for us as a team. we have faced similar sort of pressure all season."
John says the key for his side is to prepare well "and hopefully after that a good performance will follow."
Lincoln University showed plenty of character to beat New Brighton 17-14 at home last Saturday in difficult conditions in one semi-final. Down 14-10 after 67 minutes, the country students were being thwarted by New Brighton's defence. They finally released the ball to first-five Ere Enari who wiper-kicked kicked to where wing Broc Hooper timed his run to perfection, gathering the ball in mid-air to score. The try was the game's crucial act and Hooper's conversion gave them a 17-14 lead.
While Lincoln University were expected to make this weekend's final, John says that they will be taking nothing for granted. "We may tweak a few things for the final but essentially we will be sticking to our routines and game-plan."
Flanker Wade McRae, who won the Hawkins Medal for the season's Most Valuable Player, will be a crucial player. McRae became the second player from the club to win the MVP award in the last three years with Finn Russell, who later represented Scotland, winning it in 2013.
Lincoln University last won the final in 1981. The country students will again expect a huge number of blue and gold-waving supporters to make the journey in to Rugby Park. "The support that we have received from the other teams in the club and from the campus generally has been terrific," John says.
CHRISTCHURCH SURPRISE EVERYONE BUT ITSELF
To the outsider it may have been a surprise that Christchurch beat Marist Albion 24-22 in one Hawkins Trophy semi-final last weekend. After all, many pundits were talking about Marist Albion as being the dark horse in the competition and they were the only side that beat or drew with Lincoln University this year.
Yet if some were surprised by Christchurch's win, no one told the squad itself. "We are naturally very excited to make the final, but we weren't shocked to be honest," their co-coach Daniel O'Brien says. "You work hard during the season and when you make the semi-finals you back yourselves."
You don't make the final of any competition without showing some character. In Christchurch's case it was having Angus Middleton red-carded against Marist Albion. "We played really well in the first half," Daniel says. "We really stuck to our game-plan and we thankfully held on and got the job done."
Daniel says Christchurch enters the Hawkins Trophy final with nothing to lose. "Lincoln University has had a very good record and having won all-but-one match, the pressure will certainly be on them on Sunday. We will be the under-dogs."
Christchurch should have a near-fully fit squad to choose from this weekend. Daniel says their training will be less intense this week. It will be a help that the red and blacks have two players who have played over a century of senior games, while several other players are nearing that mark.
Crucial for Christchurch will be Steve Alfeld, who has been playing second-five of late, while first-five Jason Merrett has showed real on-field maturity this season. William Mills and Brad Tucker are also likely be prominent upfront. "Everyone has fronted-up," Daniel says, " and has done what we've asked of them. The boys cannot wait for the final to be honest."
This is first time Christchurch has made the Hawkins Trophy final since 2010. Daniel says that the club itself is incredibly excited about the match and the occasion itself.
Being a Christchurch club player and a former Lincoln University student, it begs the question who All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will be supporting on Sunday. As with so much in his career, there is a wonderful poignancy about this match. Perhaps, though, it is best he is out of the country on Sunday.
In the other Division 1 finals coming up, High School Old Boys will play Sumner in the Hawkins Plate, while Linwood (which drew 12-12 with fast-improving Belfast in their semi-final) will play Burnside in the Hawkins Bowl.
Photos - Ken Baker Photography
Copyright © CRFU 2017