The phrase “clash of styles” could have been invented for this final.
One near-certainty ahead of tomorrow’s Citizens Shield final between Old Boys and Valley is that each team will lean on a vastly contrasting brand of rugby in its bid to claim the honours.
Old Boys are the great entertainers, the pioneers of “freestyle” rugby who love nothing more than a dry ball and a bit of space.
Their strength and size and ball-handling skills create an intoxicating blend. Simply put, if you give Old Boys the ball and slip off even a handful of tackles, you can kiss any dreams of success goodbye.
Valley, meanwhile, has dashes of the exotic – young English first five Dan Lewis and bearded Frenchman Cedric Laurent – but this is still recognisably a country team.
Expect a fair chunk of 10-man rugby, a disciplined defensive line and plenty of kicking, and if Valley can do that well, the club has a chance of claiming its first title since 2009.
Who has more motivation? Old Boys are a year removed from the agony of losing the 2016 final after extra time, snapping their run of five straight titles; Valley suffered the relative indignity of not even making the playoffs last season. Throw in the fact Valley was the only side to beat Old Boys this year and you have plenty of storylines at play.
This is familiar territory for respected Old Boys captain Ralph Darling, who acknowledged both the loss to Maheno in last year’s epic final and the setback against Valley earlier this year provided motivation for his team.
“We’ve probably got 90% of last year’s players back, and that final loss still does hurt,” Darling said.
“We’ve definitely been drawing a bit of inspiration from that, and from the last time we played Valley. Valley thoroughly deserved to win that game. They were better than us on the day, and if that’s the way it goes this Saturday, they will deserve to win again.
“For us, we’re looking more at how we can perform as a team. Whatever happens after that, win or lose, it’s over.”
Any chance Old Boys will alter their style of rugby for a sudden-death game? Pfft.
“I don’t think we’ve got any other game plan. It’s live by the sword and die by the sword.”
Old Boys have actually built some depth this season, and have barely noticed the absence of the outstanding Maene Mapusaga and Siosiua Ngalo, both of whom are back in the islands while visa issues are sorted.
Valley has been quietly excellent this season as it bounced back from the frustrations of 2016.
The addition of Lewis has clearly had an impact but otherwise there is no single reason for the club’s improvement.
“Not a lot has changed, to be honest,” captain Cameron Rowland said.
“The team is pretty much exactly the same but obviously Dan has added a bit of finesse to the side. We had a trip to Australia at the start of the year. It probably got everyone a bit tighter as a group and we’ve progressed in leaps and bounds since then.”
Valley lacks final experience compared with Old Boys, but the presence of seasoned men like Cam Schultz should ensure the club does not panic when the chips are down.
In fact, if the final is tight, you might almost argue Valley will be extra confident given it has made a habit out of winning the close ones this year.
“The last six or seven games we’ve won, it’s only been by four points or less. I guess we’re doing something right or getting into the right areas at the right time.”
Rowland, who will join team-mates Sam Sturgess and Jake Greenslade for their traditional “pasta night” at expert chef Mikayla Cleveland’s house tonight, knows Valley will have to maintain its defensive intensity for the whole game to be in with a shot.affiliate link traceNike News