The much-anticipated final-round clash between Byron Bay rugby and the Lennox Head Trojans has taken on added significance in the race to the First Grade finals. With the teams locked together in third place a home semi final is on offer to the winner. In an intriguing sub-plot the loser may yet be eliminated from the finals if they are beaten by more than seven and if fifth-placed Ballina secure a bonus point win on the road to Wollongbar.
Both Lennox and Byron were beaten at the weekend with the Bay suffering their biggest season defeat at the hands of front runners Lismore. Byron were forced to rest a number of players owing to injury and their undermanned squad was punished 51–9 by a ruthlessly efficient Lismore side that has averaged more than 35 points a game.
The Bay stayed in touch for the first quarter of the game, matching their opponents hit for hit and earning their share of territory and possession. In the contest and trailing 7–6 after 15 minutes Byron failed to counter a Lismore lineout. The Bay contested in the air but not on the ground and the well–drilled Lismore pack drove their four jumper across the line. Byron replied with another penalty conversion from the boot of Nathan Nicholls before Lismore added a converted try and penalty goal to lead 24–9 at the break.
The second half unfolded in agonising slow motion. Byron were willing in the individual battles, but the home side built patiently and controlled possession for long periods. Byron’s best attacking moment came on the hour from centre Rob Lynch. Now adding classy offloads to his repertoire, Lynch put fullback George Kitching in under the posts only to be denied by the most marginal forward pass call.
The 40 minutes seemed like an eternity to Byron’s coach and it must have seemed a little longer to the Bay’s captain and sleep-deprived new father Pete Shaw. The courageous leader makes more tackles in a game than any other player and he seemed determined to wrap himself around anyone in a green shirt. Matt Larsson continued his rich vein of form, standing shoulder to shoulder with his captain and giving Byron real physical presence at the breakdown.
In fairness all the Byron players gave their all and in long-distant seasons this might well have been a massacre. Larsson and Kitching were the best for the Bay while halves Nicholls and Jash Saeck were solid behind a pack that couldn’t deliver any momentum.
Byron Bay have a 23–17 first round win against Lennox Head to their credit and will go into Saturday with confidence. Lennox are five-time champions but they have been beaten in their last three outings at the critical end of the season.
The match will mark the 100th appearance for Byron Bay by the ageless Rob Lynch. Somewhat appropriately it’s also Ladies’ Day and a carnival atmosphere is assured.
Lynchy’s 100th, Ladies’ Day and the biggest local rugby game in decades. It sounds to me like Splendour at the Rec Fields. A special Byron Rugby junior game will be played before First Grade. The main event kicks off at 3.30pm.