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1976 was a very special year for the Pirate's senior rugby team. At the start of the season this team was not on the radar for winning the Galbraith Shield but it just goes to show that with hard work and a bit of belief in yourself you can achieve anything.
On paper, it looked like it was going to be either Star or Invercargill to be winners of the Galbraith Sheild in 1976. The Club scene at Pirates had not been great in the previous two years and to their credit, the likes of Ray Harper, Ted McDowell, Lyall Williams and captain Garry Pankhurst realised that the culture needed to change for survival.
The improvement was seen in 1975 when Pirates started to beat some of the higher teams such as Waikiwi, Tokanui, Old Boys and Marist. It was when they came close to upsetting Invercargill in their second last game of 1975 that they realised it could be done.
1976 and the team led by Garry Pankhurst showed commitment to the club and more importantly to each other. The team respected Garry Pankhurst who had been with the club for 14 years and he knew what buttons to push to get the best from his players.
The start of the season saw a strict fitness regime and this was probably the catalyst that saw them win the Galbraith Shield.
Coach, Lyall Williams, confirmed this and said that his team did not have the talent of the likes of Star and Invercargill, but what they did have was the camaraderie and respect of each other.
Anyone would have thought that their loss to Invercargill in the semi-final would have meant an early season, but this did not deter the players as they had the faith.
The team had probably the best loose forward trio in the competition with Sam Anderson and Laurie Fawdray and Gary Barnes and Doug Muirhead.
The tight forwards lacked in height but had the heart, with Garry Pankhurst, Cliff Munro, Jim Black and Greig Spencer putting their body on the line week after week. John Pankhurst and Wayne Soper completed the tight five.
Trevor Tomlins at half-back worked on this game, which showed in the final where he had an exceptional game.
Bill Harper and Noel Eade were very accomplished first five eights and did what was asked of them.
Peter Laurie, who had transferred from Riverton, was solid in the back line and it was comforting to know that the opponent would virtually hit a brick wall when confronting him. It was not only his tackling but his strong running that put Pirates on the front foot and he could gain valuable metres to give his outside backs space.
Wow, there is not a lot more you can say about Robin Welsh, after approx 15 yearsof senior rugby he is beautiful to watch with his silky running and ball skills. He played at centre and switched to full-back when needed. It was his experience and knowledge of the game that saw him outwit and outplay his opposite, many of who were years younger.
Reid Boynton, the winger for Pirates and who scored the winning try in the shield final, had an assorted season and to be fair he was lucky to get the nod ahead of Barry Belesky in the semi-final and final with the latter being a pacy player with great skills.
Pirates had won the Senior Club Premiership in the following years: 1886, 1887, 1888,1889, 1904, 1906, 1927, 1929, 1932, 1933, 1935, 1938, 1935, 1938, 1943,1944, 1949, 1960, 1962,1963, 1975,1983.
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