April 30, 2016, the Otago Boys' High School second XV is poised to beat the John McGlashan College First XV. In the first game of the Southern Wide Real Estate First XV competition scores are tied 24-24 with a minute to play. Otago has a scrum five-metres out from the McGlashan line. McGlashan lock Woody Kirkwood explains what happened next.
"We pushed really hard in the scrum realising the importance of the situation. We managed to win a tighthead and score a length of the field try. Our prop Reon Lowery got it," he says.
McGlashan wins 29-24, but the prospect of a fixture against the Otago First XV at this stage of the season seems insurmountable. Otago's Firsts are South Island champions three times in the last four years and went 60 interschool matches unbeaten in their region, thrashing McGlashan 55-0 in 2014.
McGlashan recovered from their shaky start to clean up the Southern Wide Real Estate competition for a second straight year. They beat Waitaki BHS 23-0 in the final to go through unbeaten in 14 games. Impressively they scored 120 tries with loose-forward Rory Ferguson scoring 26 of them, including a run of four hat-tricks in a row! McGlashan passed fifty points against eight weak opponents, but still battled to beat Otago second's 16-0 in the semi-final.
By contrast Otago firsts beat Press Cup leaders Christ's College (41-0) and Christchurch BHS (43-19) in traditional fixtures. Southland BHS were dispatched (35-12) in the Dunedin Colts competition.
Saturday's Highlanders regional playoff between McGlashan (the top school team) and Otago (the second ranked of the two school teams in the Colts grade) on the above evidence appeared like it would be a mere formality for Otago, Kirkwood disagrees.
"We went in with the mentality they are the same as us. They have two arms and two legs just like us. If you look at their results against King's and Waitaki they weren't dissimilar to ours so we took confidence from that. We knew if we could start well, we could challenge them."
Despite being forced to defend early, McGlashan did start well. They held Otago out and took a 10-0 lead after 18 minutes when Lowery scored a converted try after a series of pick and goes, adding to an earlier penalty. Kirkwood sensed Otago was rattled.
"We knew we had to drive low in hard to tackle the big boys and we did that. They didn't seem like the normal Otago Boys' team. They started to make mistakes and get very annoyed with themselves, us and the referee."
Otago's problems grew larger in the second-half. McGlashan first five-eighth Luke Jarvie poached an intercept and ran 80-metres to score a converted try to make it 17-0.
"We started to believe at this point. The crowd at Logan Park started getting noisy and that spurred us on even when things got harder," Kirkwood says.
Despite conceding a yellow card and having a Sione Asi try disallowed, Otago predictably rallied. Two tries reduced the deficit to 17-10 and then on fulltime Otago scored a third try in the corner meaning if fullback Burns Mills converted Otago would advance to the Highlanders final because in the event of a draw the side which scores the greater number of tries wins.
"We all knew the rules so obviously to leave things hanging in the balance was bloody nervous. It was a tough kick and it only just missed. I guess that's footy," Kirkwood says.
McGlashan have won 19 games in a row this season and 27 in the Southern Wide Real Estate competition. Kirkwood believes the closeness of his team and the hard work of the coaches is the reason for the stunning upset over Otago.
"We are a tight team who have come through the grades together. There are about 15 of us living together in the hostel. Our coaches John Kyle and Martin Scaife have done a great job. The boys really look up to them," Kirkwood says.
Kirkwood first played rugby for the Te Anau club. He has played every game for McGlashan in the last two years and has scored four tries this season. In the summer Kirkwood is a keen rower. He won a bronze medal in the Under-16 double sculls at the Maadi Cup.
Next Saturday McGlashan travels to Invercargill to tackle Southland BHS in the Highlanders final. Last year Southland beat McGlashan 8-0 in a mud bath.
John McGlashan College 17
Reon Lowery, Luke Jarvie tries; Ryan Neill 2 con, pen
Otago Boys’ High School 15
Sam Jones, Mitch Pryde, Sam Dickson tries.
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