Eden Lizards has become the first club to raise the NZ Barbarians U85 Club Cup in a 27-24 cliffhanger against the Auckland University Squids at Eden Park on Saturday.
Not only that but by winning the national U85 knockout cup, the Lizards brought the first senior silverware in their 48-year history back to their club on Gribblehirst Park.
Eden captain Joel Taylor said winning the national title had been a special achievement for not just the team but the whole Eden club.
“[We’re] not only national champs, but [it’s the] first senior trophy for the club in our entire history, so we’ll be marching back down the road to Gribblehirst [Park]. There’s a lot of proud old boys down there for sure.
“It’s awesome to play at Eden Park, and a real special moment to enjoy with a bunch of guys we’ve been together with since January. There’s a real good culture in the team and a great way to celebrate,” Taylor said.
Eden had the early run of things before University captain Andy Ireland made a thrilling intercept and just had the legs to scoot 40 meters to open the Squids’ account four minutes in.
Following the early try, both teams settled into their work, but it was Eden that took their opportunities better with a penalty to halfback Tom Barker (12th minute), before a break from first five-eighth Ignacio Costa Lidow down the left flank put wing, Max Leanna, away to give the Lizards a 10-7 lead after 21 minutes.
But just as Eden began gaining some ascendancy, they opened the door for the Squids with flanker Kieran Rooney being yellow carded for a deliberate knockdown after 35 minutes.
It proved to be a costly mistake with the Squids going on to rack up a Henry Parker penalty and a patient well-constructed try to loosehead prop Bobby Richards on halftime to take a 17-10 lead into the break.
The deficit proved to be motivation enough for the Lizards as they hissed into the second half, missing an early penalty but remaining hot on attack.
Pressing hard into their attacking 22, Eden had the Squids on the ropes and were odds-on to score, but right-wing Charlie Lambert burgled an intercept and scampered 90-odd meters to put University up 24-10 after 49 minutes.
At that point, the national title was University’s to lose. However, drama struck in the 52nd minute when Ireland was yellow carded, giving Eden a glimmer of hope down the home stretch.
And did the Lizards gallop home – scoring first through Leanna for his double and a Barker penalty, before second five-eighth Oliver Roux landed the knockout blow with his match-winning try in the 69th minute.
By then, the usually fast-finishing Squids had lost their mojo, with Ireland acknowledging they ran out of steam down the back end.
“I’m lost for words when it comes to what we could have done. I thought the guys played their hardest; (Eden) just had more in the tank then we did.
“I honestly thought we really weathered the storm in the first half and then scoring before half time I thought that was probably going to be it. Then when we got that intercept early in the second half, I thought we had probably done enough to hold on but credit to them, they just kept coming and coming and we just couldn’t stop them.
“A lot of us wouldn’t be playing rugby up here if it wasn’t for this grade, so we really appreciate the chance to get on this stage,” Ireland said.
Taylor paid tribute to the way the Lizards hung in there when the pressure came on to eventually finish the job against their city rivals.
“We’ve got some great strike runners out there in the team and when we get going on the front foot, we’ve been getting great at breaking the advantage line. Full credit to their defence, but eventually we’ve been wearing teams down from just simply making so many tackles against us and I think that might have shown out there,” Taylor said.
Match Referee: Robert Harman
AR1: Matt TeWhatu
AR2: Steve McCann
Article | Dan Tasker.