Injury-time try delivers Clutha the trophy again

The Clutha team and supporters celebrate after beating Upper Clutha 31-28 in Balclutha on...
The Clutha team and supporters celebrate after beating Upper Clutha 31-28 in Balclutha on Saturday to win the Otago Countrywide final for the fourth year in a row. Photo: Francis Parker
The Clutha Steamers have done it again. They won the Otago Countrywide final for the fourth year in a row with a hard-fought, last-minute 31-28 victory over Upper Clutha in Balclutha.

The first half was tight, both sides starting nervously and their handling showing this. Upper Clutha opened the scoring with a penalty to Josh Roberts and an unconverted try to winger George Gilchrist after a Clutha error. This gave the travelling Rams side confidence and they began to control play. They kicked for the corners and kept pressure on Clutha’s lineout. Clutha returned fire with a try to left winger Kane Teunissen.

He found space on the end of Clutha’s fast-flowing backline to cross in the corner. The play swapped between sides as handling and decision-making remained a problem for both teams. Clutha once again looked sharp when the ball went wide and Teunissen found himself scoring almost a carbon copy of his first try.That give the home side the lead 10-8 as halftime approached.

Upper Clutha retained possession for the remainder of the half and winger James Downes scored handy to the uprights in referee’s time. The conversion by Josh Roberts was successful and Upper Clutha went to halftime 15-10 ahead.

Clutha started the second spell well. It controlled both territory and possession and its continued pressure close to the line made Upper Clutha give away a penalty.Clutha winger Robin Fesilafai tapped quickly and caught the defence napping and crossed for a try.

Matt Korteweg converted to give the home side the lead. Both sides were making substitutions looking for impact. Clutha talisman Rym Geary came on to the field and added instant explosion. He made significant metres in his first few hit-ups, then carried three defenders over the try line for a determined try. This was converted by Korteweg to give the Clutha side a handy 24-18 lead. Upper Clutha was not finished yet: once again it mounted pressure on the back of Clutha errors and found itself back on attack. Continued pressure led to Clutha giving away a penalty, which Jason Richan kicked to narrow the gap with timerunning out. The breakdown battle was getting intense and the improved handling was once again fading as fatigue set into both sides.

With two minutes left on the clock, Upper Clutha winger James Downes pounced on a Clutha mistake and scampered the best part of 40m to score his second try under the posts. Richan converted and all Upper Clutha had to do was hold the kickoff and slow down the play.

Clutha’s determination for success led it to make the much needed turnover at the breakdown, before holding on to possession for multiple phases against a dogged Rams defence. Clutha threw everything it had at the Rams as it approached the line and was rewarded deep into injury time when prop Daniel Miller crossed to send the crowd into raptures. The try was converted, not that it mattered — Clutha had produced a footballing miracle.

- Francis Parker

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