White Star win shield in Jubilee year

White Star win shield in Jubilee year     

White Star have claimed the 2023 Westreef Services Senior Shield with a tense 28-18 victory over Westport in the final played at Victoria Square on Saturday. There were four lead changes throughout the game but in the end White Star were able close out the match and complete an outstanding season in their 125th jubilee year to claim Buller club rugby supremacy.

An excellent crowd gathered at Victoria Square with dry conditions for the match. Both teams had opportunities inside the opening 15 minutes of the match, but neither team could score points as the defensive intensity was noticeable.

It was White Star who were able to open the scoring after 17 minutes of play when centre Iliesa Tora made a 30-metre break to find his midfield partner Taine Forsyth in support who raced away to score and give White Star a 5-0 lead. Westport were able to respond quickly when some sharp thinking from Caleb Aldridge saw him utilise a blind side to break the White Star line. From well inside his own half, Aldridge broke into the back field and then found his younger brother Flynn Aldridge who scampered down the touch line and outsprint the cover defence to score. His conversion gave Westport a 7-5 lead after 21 minutes.

Both teams were found guilty of some infringements at the breakdown as the game lost some of its continuity. White Star was able to convert one of those penalties into points as Sam Jope restored his sides lead to go 8-7 ahead.

Westport were struggling at lineout time as locks Alan Paterson and Rowan Neilsen were stealing ball to give White Star added possession. The lead for White Star was extended when Tora was able to stroll over the line untouched after Anthony Ellis had carried the ball strongly to give some quick front foot ball. Jope’s conversion gave White Star a 15-7 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the first half.

With time expiring, Westport were able to pick up a brace of penalty goals through the boot of Flynn Aldridge to close the halftime margin to 15-13 to White Star.

The second half started well for Westport when they scored an opportunist try. After a kick downfield from inside their 22m line, the ball found its way down to just inside the White Star half. An attacking kick was then charged down, and the ball fell into the hands of Westport’s Madddox Manawatu who raced away 40 metres to score and give Westport an 18-15 lead.

Westport were continuing to infringe which was giving excellent field position to White Star. With Jesse Elley slotting into the pivot position, he was directing play well and using his kicking game to good use. With Westport under pressure on their line, White Star found space when a Westport defender shot out of the defensive line to create a hole for lock Rowan Neilsen to ghost through and score. The conversion gave White Star a 22-18 lead with a quarter of the match remaining.

White Star’s attack was being led by huge ball carries from Ellis and Tora. Both players were making big metres over the gain line to give White Star fast attacking ball. For Westport, prop Tapi Allen was equally making good metres with his strong carries and was busy on defence.

Jope was able to extend the lead to 7 points when he converted a penalty after 25 minutes of the second half. Westport had a golden opportunity to close the gap or even tie things up when Joel Hands made a telling break down the grandstand touch line and put Westport just 15 metres from the White Star line. With quick ball and a White Star defensive line in tatters, Westport decided to operate the blind side only for Tora to make a huge defensive play and earn his side a crucial penalty in what was a decisive moment in the match.

With six minutes remaining in the game, White Star flanker Taine Brownlee was rewarded for excellent breakdown work, resulting in a penalty to which Jope converted to three points to give White Star a 28-18 lead and a gap that now required Westport to score twice.

The bumblebees threw all they could into the final stages and looked as though they would have the final say when they went the length of the field from a defensive 5 metre scrum. As their backs found space on the edge, the ball ended up in the hands of Flynn Aldridge who raced towards the ‘White Star corner’. As he approached the line, White Star winger Stanley Reedy, from the opposite side the of the field, rushed over in cover defence and produced one of the great try-saving tackles you will see. As referee Phil Grafton blasted his whistle for full time, it was White Star who threw their hands in the air and celebrated the clubs 21st Senior Shield victory.