Three-peat for Lincoln University
Halfback Jack Stratton labelled it the ‘‘easiest try’’ of his career, but it proved the moment that sparked a sluggish Lincoln University into gear.
Lincoln University captured their third straight Canterbury Metropolitan Trophy title on Sunday, overcoming a fastfinishing Canterbury University 25-19 at Rugby Park. In doing so, they became the first side since the dominant Sydenham team, who won four consecutive titles between 1996-99, to achieve a Trophy three-peat.
Lincoln were sloppy in the first half, failing to capitalise on a wealth of possession and territory inside the University 22 and trailed 5-3 at halftime.
Whatever coaches Dave Perrin, Ben Blair and Bevan Sisson uttered at the main break did the trick as Lincoln punished their University counterparts, scoring two tries within the opening six minutes of the second half.
Stratton, playing his 50th game, got over for the first in fortuitous circumstances after a pass from fullback Caleb Makene hit a University defender and bounced back into his direction.
It was the lift Lincoln needed, quickly turning a 5-3 deficit into a 25-5 advantage by the 61st minute, such is their class and ability to punish the opposition.
‘‘I think it bounced off someone. It was a bit of ping pong, but it’s probably the easiest try I’ll ever get in my life,’’ Stratton said. ‘‘We were a bit on edge and there was a bit of anxiety [in the first half]. We did stuff up a couple of early opportunities. We talked about taking those in the second half.’’
Capitalise on their chances they did with right wing Josh McKay crashing over in the corner, just four minutes after Stratton’s effort. A penalty from Brett Cameron and a third Lincoln try to replacement front rower Troy Hallett had them in complete control at 25-5.
University could have easily folded, but finished powerfully in the final quarter with Lincoln’s Jesse Houston in the sinbin for the last 10 minutes. They hit back through tries to lock Caleb Aperahama and impressive No 8 Brad Hemopo, who charged over with three minutes left to make it 25-19.
Aperahama produced a barnstorming run down the middle of the field in the dying moments, but couldn’t get the offload away. University captain Sam Godwin saluted his side, who exceeded expectations in getting through to the final after an inconsistent first round. They were playing in their first Trophy final since 2011, having last won the title in 1990.
‘‘Especially from where we’ve come from – pretty slow start to the season. We’ve kind of just hit our reins in the final few weeks of the season.’’ Godwin lamented missed opportunities on attack, especially in the first half, believing they needed a larger lead at halftime.
‘‘There were plenty of [chances]. It was hard to get across that line. Their ‘D’ was awesome.’’
Stratton, who captained Canterbury in their 71-5 Ranfurly Shield defence against Wanganui last month, didn’t have long to bask in the triumph, quickly turning his attention to Friday’s challenge against Mid Canterbury in Ashburton.
To achieve three titles on the bounce with vastly different playing groups was an achievement to savour, he said. Only skipper Chris Gawler, hooker Nick Werahiko, halfback Ere Enari, lock Jack Powell and fullback Makene have appeared in all three final victories.
‘‘It means a huge amount,’’ Stratton said. ‘‘It was the goal at the start of the year. It’s three years, but it’s one year each year with a different group. We had a goal for this group and to finish it off is really special.’’
Meanwhile, New Brighton captured the middle tier Plate final, edging Sumner 19-17. Shirley ended their centenary season on a high, securing the bottom four Bowl title overcoming Belfast 13-8.
Lincoln University players and officials are all smiles after capturing their third straight Canterbury Metropolitan Trophy final on Sunday.