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Spin it wide . . . Maheno halfback Robbie Smith looks for the long pass during the Citizens Shield game against Athletic Marist at Maheno on Saturday. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

THE WRAP
Ah, rain. What everyone in the rugby community refers to as a “leveller”.

So it proved last Saturday as all three Citizens Shield games took place in miserable conditions, and all three were in the balance for most of their 80 minutes.

There was nearly an almighty boilover in the main game but Old Boys clung on for a 29-14 win over Valley.

It appeared to be business as usual for the unbeaten defending champions when they roared to a 26-0 lead inside 20 minutes, showing all their lethal ability from broken play.

Then, well, everything changed. Valley’s forwards, bolstered by the return of Jake Greenslade, took control by holding on to the ball and fighting hard for yardage.

There is a recipe to beating this incredible Old Boys team, and Valley knows it. The challenge is being good enough – and physical enough – to put it into place for a whole game.

Over the back, Kurow also had a fright as it had to scrap to beat a vastly improved Excelsior team 20-16.

Maheno played smarter rugby in the conditions to beat another improved side, Athletic Marist, 26-21 in what I suppose we now have to refer to as a “rare” day game at Maheno.

The game was stopped for about 10 minutes as Maheno star Craig Smith received medical care. (He has since been cleared of serious injury.)

The points table now has a more spread look to it. Points separating the teams are five, six, six, seven and three.

TALKING POINT
I was on holiday and didn’t hear about this until after last week’s Oamaru Mail had gone to print, but there was a bit of history in the Old Boys-Excelsior game on April 21.

It featured the first blue card – yes, blue card – in the Citizens Shield.

Bryan Hazel, Excelsior’s big American winger, was given his marching orders by referee Dylan Winter after a head clash.

The blue card scheme is a New Zealand Rugby initiative that has been adopted by several unions following a trial in Northland.

Essentially, it is a player welfare tool that allows referees to make a call when they believe it is obvious a player has suffered a bad head knock. The blue card gets flashed and the player is done for the game. That sets in motion the process by which the player must get medical clearance before returning to action, as happened with Hazel the following week.

Times have changed – for the better. Head injuries, and the damage they can do to rugby players, are now taken extremely seriously.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
No 8 Soni Tongotongo had his best game of the season for Old Boys, and Filipo Veamatahau was again prominent.

Greenslade – having returned from Portugal in imposing physical shape – and Logan Dunlop were in blockbusting form in the Valley pack.

No 8 Cory Hollister continued his strong campaign for Kurow, and veteran halfback Robbie Smith played a huge role in Maheno’s win.

COACH’S CALL
“While we played well, Kurow were still good enough to get the job done. We are learning as a group each week, and as long as we continue to improve and understand the processes we are trying to implement, we will not judge ourselves on the result but on how we have embedded the systems we are trying to play to. Once we get these systems right, we will start to see some results.” – Dan Keno (Excelsior)

PRESIDENT’S GRADE
Union had another big win, thumping Athletic Marist 64-5. Jacob Butler, Jared Jamieson and Tyler Mahutu each scored two tries for Union, while Izaak Tauwhare contributed 13 points.

Competition leader Kurow beat Excelsior 30-12 in the other game.

THIS WEEK
Those darned ducks. Yes, we have another chaotic round thanks to the apparent requirement to release young men to go shoot some birds on opening weekend.

There were two Thursday night games – Valley was hosting Kurow, and Maheno was hosting Excelsior. Old Boys and Athletic Marist clash in the usual slot tomorrow.