Depth off the bench played a big part in helping Excelsior to its first win on Saturday.
Blues beat Athletic Marist 29-19 in the “battle of the car park”.
The match moved fields early on, after an injury to Athies player Mason Kinzett.
Athies manager Graham Pitches confirmed Kinzett was recovering well.
Athies came out strong, with Lisivaini Tu’ifua scoring a converted try, but thanks to the boot of Blues first five-eighth Josh Phipps the game was levelled at 7-all. Blues centre Mataroa Maui scored a try, and took his side to a 14-7 lead at the break.
Athies scored first in the second spell, but Blues played with most of the ball and made it count when it was in the 22.
It stepped up another level in the final 20 minutes and Blues coach Hamish McKenzie said having a full bench paid dividends.
“They all added something when they went on. Obviously the whole team played well, but it was really pleasing to see the guys coming on, doing their job and we finished quite strongly,” McKenzie said.
It was a tough game – ”it was never a game that was in the bag by any stretch” – and that impact off the bench was crucial to getting the first win of the season.
Captain Matt Duff scored a fantastic try off the back of a maul and was physical in the battle all day.
“He doesn’t put in a bad performance, to be fair, but he was outstanding.”
Halfback Zane Gard was also strong and young replacement lock Avish Raj got stuck into everything.
Pitches said Athies’ ball retention was poor and the club was disappointed with its performance.
“We are aiming to improve every week, but we took a step backwards on Saturday. We just made too many mistakes at crucial times,” Pitches said.
However, Athies’ line speed was good and prop Lisivaini Tu’ifua carried strongly and made some good breaks.
In the Waitaki Valley, Valley beat Kurow 34-22, and in Maheno, Old Boys beat the green machine 49-38.
Valley blew the score out to 34-7 at one point in the game, before Kurow came back with a couple of late tries.
It was a similar affair in Maheno, when Old Boys got out to a 21-0 lead. Maheno had a better second half and dug its way back into the game, but the opening performance from Old Boys saw it get the win.
The Waitaki Wahine thumped top-of-the-table Big River Country 55-27 last week, under the lights at Maheno.
Clutha’s Big River Country has been a standout in its first season in the Dunedin club competition, but the Waitaki Wahine had the upper hand from the start.
Waitaki came out firing with second five-eighth Daimzel Rongokea making a 60m break, dotting down her first try of the night in the opening five minutes.
Fellow Cook Island import No 8 Charlize Tumu-Makara also scored a try for the home team.
Captain Cheyenne Cunningham played a blinder. The first five-eighth was good with the boot, kicking five conversions, but it was her physicality in the contest that stood out. She brushed off several tackles and made a break down the sideline to score her own try.
Young fullback Shelby Johnston is one to watch this season. The young talent has some explosive pace behind her and scored two tries for the Wahine.
The home side never looked like losing, leading 31-15 at the half, and played to its structure, moving the ball into space easily.
The team has another home game tomorrow, taking on Alhambra-Union at Whitestone Contracting Centennial Park.
A repeat of last year’s Citizens Shield final leads the way for this week’s match-ups.
Valley hosts Maheno at home and both teams will look to come out firing.
Top-of-the-table Valley will be wanting to continue its dominant form, while Maheno will be keen to avenge last year’s final loss.
Old Boys returns to Whitestone Contracting Centennial Park to take on Athletic Marist.
On the back field, Excelsior hosts Kurow in the country club’s first away game of the season.
All games kick off at 2.45pm tomorrow.