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It was a classic case of "Nothing to Lose" for Pirates when they won the Galbraith Shield in 1976. On paper they were definitely the under dogs and having beaten Star the previous week in the semi-finals, they would have decided that they just had to go out and play their own game.
With Invercargill looking for their third Shield win on the trot they were probably quietly confident that they could make a triple shot.
Although it was the Pirate's full 15 that played out of their skins, it was down to the last 60 seconds that sealed the game for Pirates. Reid Boynton managed to scoop up a mis-kick from Phillip Stevenson and run 70 metres to score under the posts. It was a beautiful sight for the Pirates players and I think they would have been pinching themselves that it really happened.
The game was played in good spirit and it was probably more nerves than anything that caused, poor ball handling and aimless kicks.
The first points to come was against the run of play - Robertson for Invercargill scored when Stevenson had a dab on the opposite side of the field, the ball reached McLellan, he deviated infield and when tackled off loaded to Robertson.
Pirates answered quickly with Trevor Tomlins using the blind, and first five eight, Bill Harper and Robin Welsh combining nicely to get the ball to Wayne Belesky, who had an overlap, and when confronted by Invercargill, he chip kicked infield and found Sam Anderson who crashed through two tacklers, found Muirhead and went over for try.
Pankhurst's conversion hit the upright. SCORE 4-4
The next points came when Sam Anderson managed to win two quick rucks in the mid field and his quick hands gave Boynton the ball 45 metres out and knowing the defence was closing in gave an almighty dive over the line.
Half time went and it was Invercargill that looked the better team when they came on to the field. Pirates seemed to have lost their mojo, but somehow, against the run of play, they managed an overlap to Boynton who ran 45 metres unopposed to score. This started with Sam Anderson winning two rucks in succession and the ball was quickly passed through the backline to gain the overlap.
Invercargill realising they needed a change of strategy, to combat the constant pressure of the Pirate's loosies and in particular Anderson, knew they had to get the ball out wide. This paid off when McLellan for Invercargill received the ball on an overlap and when threatened by Welsh at the 22, he chip kicked over Welsh's head, ran on to the ball and scored.
Hildyard converted which made the score 10-8.
With 12 minutes remaining, Invercargill played with restraint, probably trying to preserve the lead and just play out the final minutes for the win.
With three minutes to go Evan McLellan, instead of kicking the ball out kicked it right into the waiting hands of Reid Boyton who charged downfield to score the spectacular winning try. Converted by Pankhurst.
The game was played in good spirits with the forwards having an even tussle. Invercargill had the advantage in the line outs with the taller players and had the positive count of 20-13. Pirate's John Pankhurst was the only one that really contested the ball at the front of the line out.
But to make up for this it was the loose forwards, led by Sam Anderson and supported Laurie Fawdray and Doug Muirhead for Pirates that were more mobile and able to secure second phase ball.
Trevor Tomlins, relatively young and inexperienced, was the general in directing play. He linked well for his forwards to his backs and always gave his first five eight, Wayne Harper, good clean ball.
Captain and prop, Garry Pankhurst played his usual tight game and was a formidable force with the other experienced prop, Greig Spencer.
The other veteran on the field for Pirates, Robin Welsh at full back was safe and had the uncanny ability to force Invercargill players into mistake. It was this skill that saved two certain tries.
Murray Leach was in great form for Invercargill with his clean takes in the line outs a great advantage.
Barry Low and Roger Ramsay both had fine games.
Backs, Gary Muir and Phillip Stevenson showed their real form in the first 20 minutes of the second half but for some unknown reason went into a shell, just when Pirates were showing signs of cracking. They kicked away possession time and time again.
Keith Robertson playing out of position at centre had a good all round game and scored the first try.
Hildyard at full back had his best game of the season and was strong when joining the back line and was safe on defence.
Invercargill played well but was very tentative at times, which was just enough for Pirates to take the most of these opportunities and win the shield.
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