Saracens seeks name on Shield

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North Canterbury champions, Saracens, will be seeking to have its name engraved on the Rakahuri Shield for the first time when it hosts Ashley, at Southbrook on Saturday, July 2.
Instituted two seasons ago, Ashley won the inaugural North Canterbury senior rugby encounter 22-5.
Last season the gap was narrowed to just two points when Lance Taylor kicked a late penalty to enable Ashley to hold on to the Shield 12-10.
Ashley finished sixth in the combined competition, compared to Saracens ninth ranking and after having had a string of injuries to contend with, should be back at close to full strength for this match.
Perhaps the most notable of those expected to return is captain, Ethan Cameron, who has missed the last month with a leg injury.
Ashley will be looking forward to him renewing his mid-field combination with Brad McKenzie, while outside them, Pita Sekalagi is sure to be a constant threat.
He has arguably been the best back in any of the North Canterbury teams this season.
Lance Taylor at first five, who scored all of Ashley’s points in last season’s encounter will again be a potential match winner with his goalkicking.
With the likes of Andrew Olorenshaw, James Thiele, Ritchie Hancox and Matt King leading the forward charge, Ashley will be hard to beat.
But Saracens showed in last season’s Grand Final when it turned the tables on its neighbour from across the river, and won 22-15, that it does have the all round game to topple Ashley.
It will have the added incentive this year that it will the 100th Division One match for the club stalwart at lock, Geoff Cherry.
Saracens has an industrious forward pack, well-led by captain Josh Maynard.
He gets sterling support from the likes of Willie Kerr and Peter Manahi while Scottish import Connor MacFarlane should ensure a steady supply of line-out ball. Nathan Reid is the key organiser in the Saracens backline with Josh Harrison and Brett Hancox also likely to be major contributors while five-eighth Ricky Allin has had a good year with his goal-kicking.
Everything points to another close battle this time round. It would be a brave man who confidently predicted the winner but I’ll plump for Ashley on the basis that in Sekalagi and Taylor, they have two x-factor players both capable of swinging the match in their team’s favour.