‘Attitude’ key to St Taki’s 2nd title

Top team . . . St Taki under-18 have gone undefeated to win back›to›back championships, beating Craighead 34-24 in the South Canterbury under› 18 final last Wednesday. PHOTOS: KAYLA HODGE/DAVE BOYLE

‘‘Remember this moment, girls — that is why you play rugby.’’

It was a moving statement from St Taki head coach Josh Phipps as he congratulated his team on winning back›to›back South Canterbury under-18 titles last week.

St Taki beat Craighead 34-24 in an arm wrestle of a match at Whitestone Contracting Stadium in front of a loud home crowd.

The win capped off an astounding two years for the team, which remained undefeated over both seasons, winning about 20 games — all by bonus points.

Phipps said he was really proud of his team’s performance in the final and heaped praise on their efforts this season.

‘‘Definitely all the credit goes to them. It was a pretty difficult season this year, so absolutely outstanding by them,’’ Phipps said.

St Taki, a combined St Kevin’s College and Waitaki Girls’ High School team, did not have it all its own way in the final.

Craighead pushed for the win and sneaked ahead on the scoreboard in patches.

It was the fightback in the second half from St Taki players, both on attack and defence, that impressed Phipps the most.

‘‘We said to the girls at halftime, ‘there’s a difference between being tired and exhausted’, and when they went into that second half, they were just absolutely incredible.’’

It was not the ‘‘flashiest rugby in the world’’, but the grit and determination St Taki showed put them a step above, he said.

‘‘It was just the attitude that really won them that final.’’

St Taki had been hit hard with injuries, sickness, players leaving school, and other commitments — making it hard to field the same team each week, but the players never complained once, he said.

It came down to player attitude and drive, to replicate what the side achieved last year.

A large number of year 13 players left school after last year’s win, forcing a reset with a bunch of new players entering this year’s team.

Phipps, who coaches alongside Colleen Carroll and John Hanning, said it had been a bit of a challenge, but the players rose to the occasion.

‘‘Myself, and the coaches, we push them and we give them all the support and coaching that we can, but at the end of the day, they’re the ones that are putting in the real hard work and effort.

‘‘There’s been a handful of key girls who have really stepped up as leaders. They laid down the foundations of what we’re about as a team, a St Taki team. The culture adds to it as well.

‘‘We kind of said early on in the year . . . we’re going to win this competition, we’re not just going to take part.’’

Georgie McCarthy, Kirsten Lemmens, Zaria Kira, Jade Grant, Kara Herbst, Leah Marrow and Tina Latavao have all been selected in the Hanan Shield under-18 team.

Phipps was grateful to the schools, fellow coaches and the North Otago Rugby Union for their support this season.