Christchurch Boys’ High School, St Bede’s College and Christ’s College contributed a combined total of 32 players to the Crusaders Knights representative camp and wider training group this week.
With three rounds remaining in the UC Championship, Lincoln Combined are the other team in the Top Four. Lincoln has won eight of their 10 matches this season, including six in a row.
Second five-eighth Wil Gualter was Lincoln’s only pick.
How does Gualter explain such a vast imbalance?
“It would’ve been nice to have more Lincoln boys involved, but I guess a lot of our players are new to the competition and aren’t as well known as the established schools,” Gualter responds.
Lincoln Combined was founded last year and in 2018 consists of 21 players from Lincoln High School, six from the Ellesmere region and four from Darfield, a 45-minute drive from the team’s training venue. Last year a player from Akaroa Area School, over an hour away, was involved.
How do the boys make it work?
“Pride and passion is what we're all about. It’s a big opportunity for country boys to play in the UC Championship. We want to make the most of it,” Gualter answers.
“We have 31 boys in the squad, which creates a bit of competition for places. We’re lucky to be coached by Michael ‘Critter’ Wilson who has a lot of experience in senior rugby in the Banks Peninsula. Our manager is Juan Shalfoon a really organised ex-Army man,” Gualter continued.
Lincoln trains on Tuesday and Thursday with an exception the players do their own fitness work.
In their first competition match, Lincoln was narrowly beaten 12-13 by Rangiora High School, a defeat which left a bitter taste.
“We felt we should have won the Rangiora game and didn’t. Afterwards we stressed to never forget the feeling of disappointment from that loss. It’s been a big driver mentally,” Gualter reveals.
Lincoln has beaten each of the previous two UC Championship runners up, Shirley Boys’ High School (20-18) and Timaru Boys’ High School (11-0). Additionally St Thomas of Canterbury College were pipped (25-24) and all three combined outfits Aoraki (26-13), Mid Canterbury (34-7), Waimea (40-21) were tamed.
“We’re not the biggest team, but we like to think were fit and play with a lot of agility, smarts and ticker,” Gualter shares of the Lincoln approach.
Gualter identifies the 23-10 win over Marlborough Boys’ College in Blenheim as a benchmark performance.
“We really clicked that day. It was a real competitive game against a big pack, but I felt like the boys weren’t going to lose,” Gualter acclaims.
Gualter scored two tries in the 19-15 win over St Andrew’s College. Others to have thrived this season include flanker Blair Ryall, wing Callum Murdoch, hooker Jack Knewstubb and halfback Robert Sporke.
Lincoln have a tough road to the semi-finals travelling to top five sides St Bede’s College, Christchurch Boys’ High School and Nelson College in the final rounds.
Lincoln, who won six games last year, actually beat St Bede’s College (15-10) on April 29, 2017, but St Bede’s are significantly improved in 2018.
Combined sides are not eligible to challenge for the Moascar Cup. Regardless of the outcome of the Christchurch versus Nelson fixture on July 28, Lincoln would have been guaranteed a challenge if that rule didn’t exist.
“I’m a bit on the fence about the Moascar thing, but it’s beyond our control. We just want to keep proving out point and winning,” Gualter concludes.
Christchurch Boys’ High School, with a perfect record thus far, are guaranteed a semi-final, but with only nine points separating fourth and 11th plenty of movement is guaranteed after the mid-term break.
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