“You get nowhere by being negative,” asserts Gerry McKeown, captain of the Roncalli College First XV.
That attitude is easier said than done when your team has lost 42 consecutive matches. On Saturday McKeown’s infectious positivity was finally rewarded when Roncalli beat Burnside High School 40-14 - their first win in the UC Championship since 2014.
“It was huge. Were lucky to have a group of really loyal supporters who have stuck with us through thick and thin. They were pretty excited when we won and ran onto the field to celebrate with us at the end,” McKeown recounts.
Roncalli roared out from the kick off, leaping to an 18-0 lead. Prop Marika Parker and openside Will Harding-Richardt scored tries with Ben Thomson adding two penalties and a conversion.
Both sides traded a converted try each to make the score 25-7 at halftime. Flanker McKeown was disappointed with the defence slip.
“The first time Burnside touched the ball in our half they got a try. We were still weary at halftime because Burnside had comeback from 18 points down last week to beat Mid Canterbury,” McKeown reveals.
Roncalli kept their cook and struck straight away with a try to Ben Stickings, off a rigorous drive, before hooker Robbie Morrison made a sideline dash from 30 metres out to seal the win.
“Being ahead by so much was a strange position to be in, but the boys started to relax and enjoy themselves. Instead of kicking for goal we would take a lineout. It felt good,” McKeown explains.
The closest Roncalli got to a win in the losing streak was in 2016 when they were beaten 24-26 by Ashburton College. The largest loss was 0-98 to Christchurch BHS in 2015. McKeown reflects on the worst defeat of all.
“We were beaten 90-0 by Timaru Boys’ this year. That really hurt. We didn't even show up. That’s the local grudge match and it was embarrassing to lose by so many and have to bump into Timaru players in the street,” McKeown mourns.
McKeown insists First XV rugby has been an enjoyable experience with many valuable lessons learned.
“We turn up to training every week and prepare to win. We’re a small school, but we have never given up. I’ve learned a lot about leadership this year. I am better at motivating players and showing tolerance when mistakes happen. As a team we have learned to focus on our individual roles rather than trying to do too much and become selfish.”
Roncalli has three other teams at the school, two Under-14 sides and a Under-15 selection who compete in the local South Canterbury grades. Additionally their First XV is propped up by four country selections, hence their 2017 name of Roncalli Combined. McKeown signals out Philip Knubley for special praise.
“Philip is from the Mackenzie Country and travels an hour every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday to get to trainings and the game. He has played every game this season and always leads from the front with his play.”
Roncalli became part of the UC Championship in 2010 and stunned in their inaugural season when they finished fifth under the guidance of South Canterbury rugby stalwart John Simpson. Roncalli College was created by the merger of St. Patrick’s High School and Mercy College in 1981. Commentator John McBeth attended the former.
Roncalli concludes their season this Saturday when they tackle St. Bede’s College. McKeown acknowledges the enormity of the challenge.
“No Roncalli team has even beaten St. Bede’s. St. Bede’s are a great rugby school, but we will give it our best shot. Everyone remembers their last game at high school and we want the memory to be a good one,” McKeown concludes.
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