Mon, Oct 9, 2023 11:29 AM

Young Red Devils do province proud


Peter Jones

The 2023 Marlborough under-16 rugby side travelled to the recent South Island tournament in Ashburton as the top-ranked Tasman side.

The question was, although they had dominated in seeding games, could they cope with the extra power that the southern sides possessed?

They certainly answered that question in the affirmative, claiming a third place finish out of the 16 teams that took part.

Marlborough got straight into their work in Friday’s cup quarterfinal with a demolition job on the home side, Mid Canterbury. After leading 24-0 at halftime into a strong wind, Marlborough pulled away to claim an emphatic 54-5 victory set up by powerful forward play and astute guidance by the backs.

Saturday’s semifinal was against eventual winners Otago Metro.

Nerves bubbled to the surface early for the Devils with a string of unforced errors culminating in a yellow card. That card came at a cost of 26 points which forced the Devils into catch-up mode, but the gap proved too far to bridge. The Devils mounted a stunning three-try comeback, racking up 23 unanswered points, but Otago Metro scored a late try and eventually prevailed 43-23. High tempo and the ability to attack space coupled with superior game management served Marlborough well but the size and power of Otago Metro proved the difference on the day.

This put the young Devils into a play-off for third/fourth against Nelson. Marlborough, bitterly disappointed with their loss against Otago, were extremely motivated to finish with a dominant performance and achieved just that, prevailing 41-7. Marlborough started well with early physical domination and by halftime had scored two tries to Nelson’s one. Then, in the second stanza, they upped the ante, dominating every facet of the game to end their spirited campaign on a high note.

Coach Tristan Moran said, “As a team we decided early on that we weren’t going to be victims and that we wanted to transcend the adversity and hardships that we faced. We set a goal of strength in the face of adversity not protection.

“The players took responsibility, they played with meaning, they carried that meaning with them throughout the games.

“For us it was about more than rugby, it was about being someone that could be relied upon in a time of need by our teammates and our families. We wanted to grow into strong young men, and I really think we did that. I am proud of each and every player in this team.”

Everyone played their part for the young Marlborough side. The forwards were led by “a couple of runaway buses” in Ben Gibbons and Rico Nicklin. The set piece was a strength with Jake Gane’s accurate throwing and Tom Robinson and Finn Neal dominating in the air. Ajay Gane grew into the tournament, directing the team around and delivering quality ball. Kyan Marcroft proved hard to handle by running some sharp lines. Josh Flynn stood up and proved a vital asset with his boot. Ben Musgrove AKA the Kamikaze kid was fearless in his tackling.

“If this young team is anything to go by, Marlborough rugby has a bright future,” added Tristan.

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