Nelson College shocked New Zealand last year when their First XI football team won the National title. Nelson became only the second South Island school to capture the title since the inception of the annual event in 1978.
Co-captain Matt Tod-Smith is back for another tilt at the top. He has already noticed differences in the way opponents approach Nelson.
“I think teams are a lot more cautious against us. We played Christchurch Boys’ in pre-season and they were very defensive. The game was drawn nil-all. They put 11 bodies behind the ball and we found it tough to break them down. We had a couple of scares too when they caught us on the break,” Tod-Smith concedes.
What is the solution for breaching stingy defences?
“I think you have to try to stretch teams as wide as possible, be patient and mixed things up. You also have to think about defending as well, otherwise you can easily concede.”
It’s interesting to note that Leicester City in their giant-killing English Premier League success made the fewest passes and had the third least possession of any team across the whole season. Does Tod-Smith see any resemblance in the wayNelson and Leicester approach the game?
“Not really. I think we should stick to our strengths and try to be balanced and the rewards will come,” he says.
New Zealand Under-17 coach Danny Hay was forced to concede some Nelson players weren’t rewarded for their success last season. Not a single Nelson player earned National honours. The coach of National runner-up’s Sacred Heart College was recently in Nelson on an observation trip.
“I guess it was disappointing to have nobody in Chile. Bertie Fish and Max Winterton were outstanding and probably could have gone, but that’s in the past. I think people will take more notice of us this year,” Tod-Smith says.
Nelson have six returning players from 2015. Tod-Smith identifies fellow captain Labu Pan and Van Roland Hlawn Ceu as key figures. All three boys play for Nelson Suburbs in the men’s grade Mainland Premier League which features clubs from Christchurch.
“The Mainland League is obviously a higher level of competition than the club grade in Nelson which the school plays in. It’s really good when we come back because it lifts the performance of everybody,” Tod-Smith says.
In June Nelson will play a series against Waimea College, Marlborough Boys’ College and Nayland College. The winner qualifies for Nationals.
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