Nelson College are South Island First XV rugby champions for the second time in three years. Ollie Inch is captain and centre in 2021. He has featured in just about every game the past three seasons.
Saturday’s 27-19 victory over Otago Boys’ High School in the South Island final at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium was his 50th appearance for the First XV.
“We had one job to do and we were pretty excited coming off last week’s big win. It’s been a long season, Covid slowed things down a bit, but I couldn’t be prouder of the boys,” Inch said.
“We had to trust our skills and stick to the game plan to beat Otago. We have got a big pack and if we execute our plan then it makes it tough for the opposition.”
In bright sunshine, Nelson started at a breakneck pace with a 14-phase attack before prop Ben Lefale rampaged into a gap to score under the posts. Cooper Grant converted and landed a penalty soon after to put Nelson up 10-0 after just six minutes.
Inch, Grant and halfback Wil Thornalley were potent and further tries to Nelson fullback Nic Sauira, and hulking blindside Netani Baleisomosomo put the visitors well clear. However, Otago struck back with two quick tries of their own, setting up a tense last quarter with Nelson leading 27-19.
“We didn’t have the ball, made too many mistakes, and were trapped in our half, defending for a long period. Otago are a quality side and if you give them a sniff they will take a mile.
“We had to work hard over lockdown to maintain fitness. That was left up to individual players to push themselves. Our ability to defend for long periods and finish strong in other games showed we put the work in.”
It was a minor miracle Nelson was involved in the South Island final in the first place. A week earlier at Trafalgar Park, Nelson was down 15-3 at halftime to Christ’s College in the final of the Crusaders First XV championship. However, tries to Baleisomosomo, Jayden Waharoa and Timi Sauria turned the deficit into a 22-20 win. It was a repeat of the annual quadrangular final where Nelson flipped a 20-3 disadvantage at the break to prevail 27-25.
“Christ’s are a quality side, well-drilled with lots of passion for their school. We came out of the gates slowly which wasn’t the plan, but we knew after Quad we could do it. We had to put our heads down, increase our intensity and get our forward game going.
“As captain I try to stay positive. We have a mantra in our team: Next job. You can’t get your tails between your legs. Things happen quickly so staying positive and accepting the odd mistake will happen is vital.
“We have a pretty good culture driven by the coaches. We do a lot of travelling so we have someone in charge of the music, games on the bus. It’s a good balance between serious and a lot of fun.”
Inch models his own game on Nelson College All Black David Havili and was touched when several Tasman Mako presented the team jerseys at the 2020 Quadrangular tournament.
Nelson won the Crusaders Championship in 2019, beating Christchurch Boys’ High School 35-31 in the final. Prior to that success they’d only won the championship once in 2007 when they foiled St Bede’s College 31-26 in the final. That season Nelson won 19 of 22 games and attended the National Top Four. Which season was more enjoyable for Inch?
“It’s tough to pick because they were so different. In 2019 I was a young buck. I looked up to a lot of boys. This year I was a leader and had to be a role model so it’s nice to leave the team in good shape.”
Nelson College rugby is rarely in bad shape. The school played the very first game of rugby in New Zealand on May 14, 1870. The First XV have enjoyed many golden eras. Between 1996 and 1998 the side won 76 out of 91 games including the Quadrugular each year. The same feat happened from 1946 to 1949 when the record was 56 wins in 63 games. In 1959 the First XV was unbeaten in 20 games.
Nelson has won the Quadrangular five times since 2015. In 2019 they won 16 out of 19 games, attending the National Top Four. This season the only blemishes in 17 games were a 12-12 draw against Christchurch Boys’ High School and a 14-17 setback to Marlborough Boys’ College. Additionally, Rongotai College and Wellington champions St Patrick’s College, Silverstream were crushed in a pre-season tour of the capital.
Inch is planning to head to Lincoln University next year where he will play rugby and study commerce and agriculture.
Story by Adam Julian, for College Sport Media, September 2021.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand