Both the Under 15s and the First XV travelled over Arthurs Pass on Wednesday to take on Darfield High in the second round of the Brockbank-Graves Cup. A slow bus ride saw the boys getting off the bus less than 20 minutes before kickoff, barely enough time to get changed before the Under 15s took the field.
The lack of preparation time showed early as Darfield set up camp in the John Paul II half. Some relentless defense from Max Walklin kept Darfield out temporarily, but soon it was 5-nil to the home team. Not long after, a poor kick chase allowed a counter-attacking second try and a 10-nil score. The boys were able to put together some phases and apply pressure - a sign of things to come - which allowed Payton Guthrie to score from a quick tap and kick the conversion. Much of the rest of the first half was one way traffic to Darflield High; a cross kick and midfield turnover led to the third and fourth tries against us. Despite having so little ball, Max managed a breakaway to score as the half ended giving us a flattering scoreline of 20-14 against.
The second half began with a lot of errors in our own 22, but the defense from Kade Howe and Seth Wilson was resolute. After absorbing almost ten minutes of pressure, some neat passing found Payton rushing through a hole and scoring a try worked from 80 metres out. All of a sudden, the team had their rhythm. Mac Fahey scored from a second long-range break, then Payton went through the middle for his third try. All of a sudden, John Paul II was leading 31-20 with ten minutes to go. Darfield wasn’t finished however, working their way towards the line. A try with two minutes to go tightened up the scores, but it was all too late as John Paul II were able to wind down the clock and grind a 31-25 win.
The First XV were helped by the addition of some tired legs from the Under 15s, but that didn’t stop the momentum from the first game. After a frenetic struggle early that saw lots of big tackles, Reece Duggan made a critical break, finished off a few phases later by Keil Guthriel in the corner. From the ensuing kick off, Liam Donaldson broke eight tackles over the course of a 70 metre run, before Reese went over the line. Two conversions from Payton had the score at 14-0 after as many minutes. Mistakes from the kick off finally gave Darfield their first try, then a considerable back-and-forth ended when Darfield made their only genuine break of the half, narrowing the score to 14-10.
Switching Robbie Lyford and Quinn Berry to the opposite side of the front row added significant stability to the scrum, even pushing Darfield off their own ball. This led to multiple attacks in the Darfield 22, but for the first time that day, Darfield absorbed pressure on their one line, even breaking out and scoring a long-range try of their own after two dozen phases of continuity. For the first time, the First XV found themselves down on the scoresheet, which compounded itself after a string of mistakes had us down 22-14 with 15 minutes to go. A solo try to Matthew Molloy brought John Paul II to within one point with time winding down, before an error from the ensuing kick off stunned the team as Darfield extended their lead 27-21 with just two minutes to play. Poor kicking - 20% from the tee from Darfield compared to 100% from Payton - had kept us in the game. With one last roll of the dice, John Paul II began to rumble up the middle, attacking the edges of the ruck. Darfield’s biggest weakness was fitness, so when captain Matthew Molloy spied a gap outside the first defender he was through on halfway, fended off one would-be tackler, and went in under the bar as time expired. The conversion iced the game and was the final act in a 28-27 victory.
Another long bus ride back was made better with the knowledge that both teams are two wins from two games. The game against Buller next week will be telling for the competition.