High School Old Boys' Light Bears take out the U85kg National Club Cup

High School Old Boys': 45 (Taine Cordell-Hull, George Coull 2, Jose De Sousa, Ryan McNulty, Tom Anderson, Ben Scott tries; Cordell-Hull 5 con)

Takapuna Bombers: 17 (Luke Rutledge-Harding, Jordan Bolland, Matt O’Brien tries; Bolland con)

HT: 33-7

High School Old Boys' Light Bears are lightweight champions of New Zealand defusing the Takapuna Bombers 45-17 in the Under 85kg National Club Cup final on Saturday afternoon.

At a sun-drenched North Harbour Stadium, the occasion was magnified by the performance of the national anthem prior to kick-off. To the dulcet voice of Frankie Stevens, the teams bound shoulder to shoulder with hands across hearts, smiles, tears, and that one singer always conspicuously out of tune. The hearty crowd in the grandstand was appreciative.

It was the Light Bears hitting the early notes. Two Takapuna lineouts went astray enabling the southerers to dictate territory. In the sixth minute halfback Taine Cordell-Hull opened the scoring when he collected a bobbling ball, pivoted past a would-be defender, and skipped gleefully clear.

The Bombers' prospects of victory would be shattered in the ninth minute. Nate Archibald was red-carded at the restart. The center was involved in an accidental and nasty collision with the High School Old Boys receiver.

The Light Bears, with six premier backs, ruthlessly seized the initiative and scored three tries in a blistering quarter-hour burst. Canterbury B fullback George Coul was eager and clinical while first-five Jarred Percival and second-five Freddie Gibson combined with flair and authority as holes opened regularly.  

Coull’s second try where he received an audacious offload from Percival was jaw-dropping and will no doubt endure long after it happened. It was almost irreverent, a stark contrast to brutish blindside Ryan McNulty who clattered through fatigued shoulders and arms in his violent surge to the posts.

Down 26-0 in as many minutes, the Light Bears incurred the wrath of the Bombers scrum and blindside Luke Rutledge-Harding eventually rumbled over after a trifecta of penalties. 

Thoughts of an improbable comeback were short-lived. A charge down by hooker Jose De Sousa saw the Light Bears turn with a 33-7 advantage at the interval. 

Takapuna was remarkably resilient and almost achieved parity on the scoreboard (12-10) in the second half. Lock Brayden ‘Big’ Red’ Smith and loosies Rutledge-Harding and Matt O’Brien were tenacious and tireless. Halfback Jackson Ephraims showed moments of real quality and a lot was asked of versatile replacement Akuso Vae Lua.

The Light Bears always had another level though and captain Percival was delighted that the red card didn’t deviate them from their initial strategy.

“Our plan is to play territory, tackle aggressively, and open it up when it’s on,” he said.

“The defense today was unbelievable and it’s a joy when the backs express themselves. All I have to do is sit back and admire.

“This was a quality display by the boys today. I can’t speak highly enough of everyone on that field and our management. It's bloody awesome."

The South Island has captured three of the four Under 85kg National Club Cup titles. Takapuna finishes an outstanding season with a 16-1 record.