A LOT of teams have had their names etched into the Sawers Shield in its more than 100 years of life as a local rugby union prize.
But for the first time the engraver will add the name “UNE Barbarians” after they beat St Albert’s in Saturday’s NERU decider at Bellevue Oval in Armidale.
The Baa Baas thoroughly deserved the 25-6 win to complete an almost unbeaten season only two years after getting smacked with the wooden spoon.
“It’s unbelievable,” Baa Baas captain Sam Piddington said.
“In 2010 we didn’t win a game.
“We started in 2005 and didn’t get in until 2008.
“We always said that if we build off the field first the on-field stuff will come.”
It definitely came on Saturday, especially in the second half when the Baa Baas’ dominance began to show.
Albies led 3-nil after a Peter Weiss penalty but UNE scored the first try via prop Dan Raye in its very first foray into the Albies’ red zone.
Both sides doubled their score before the break, with man of the match Keith Ellis going over for UNE’s second try after drifting across field, as is his style.
He slid through the defence to score before Weiss slotted another penalty to make it 10-6 at halftime.
Albies was down to 14 men for 10 minutes after Mitch Wheaton was binned for a dangerous tackle just before the break.
Ellis landed his own penalty to open the second-half scoring and, while it took a long time to put Albies away, it was Piddington’s try from a line-out close to the Albies line that gave UNE the breathing space it wanted.
The lead was 18-6 and, with Albies finding it near impossible to make any impression with ball in hand, it was probably a winning lead.
But to make sure of it, winger Adam O’Neile made an incisive run to score in the last minute for Baa Baas and seal the game and the premiership.
Piddington said he could tell before kickoff that his side was up for the game and it showed, especially in its unbreakable defence.
“Defence is all about attitude,” Piddington said.
“I could seen even this morning in the boys’ eyes that they were in the game.
“We just didn’t want to lose.”
It may have been the first title for the Baa Baas and only its second finals campaign but their efforts throughout 2012 clearly marked them as favourites.
The skipper said that pressure was a factor but his side was able to overcome it.
“Sometimes it’s hard when you lead from the front,” Piddington said.
“In every game the other side is the underdog.
“And Albies know how to win a game.
“Last year we were leading games and then losing in the last five or 10 minutes.
“It’s been the opposite this year.
“The boys have dug in.”
In addition to the defensive effort, the set pieces also went UNE’s way and both backs and forwards can claim dominance over their opposition.
“We’ve known for five weeks that we were in the grand final,” Piddington said.
“We’ve worked hard on our set pieces.
“We’ve also got a great forward pack.
“Tim Robins was excellent in what looks like being his last game ever.
“Keith Ellis at the back was great, Chookie (Chris Heywood) did what he always does at five-eighth, along with Tony O’Donnell.
“But the forwards led the way.”
Albies were the reigning premiers but this year’s title was out of reach.
Scoring chances were few and far between and errors ensured the game was only going to go one way.
“Our boys did their best today but we didn’t execute as well as we wanted to,” coach Greg Wood said.
“Baa Baas’ defence was really solid.
“Their forwards ran hard and made good metres.
“A few times we’d get in position and lose line-outs – three or four times that happened.
“Baa Baas have had the best set pieces all year.
“When you go through a season almost undefeated it’s for a good
“They played the way we would have liked to in the grand final.”
Albies did well to make the grand final after wins over Armidale and Robb College.
Winning the big one again was a bridge too far.
“We got on a roll towards the end,” Wood said.
“Our last three games were sudden death really and maybe our grand final was last week.
“But in the end, Baa Baas have beaten us all season.
“We played them five times and apart from one game they’ve beaten us comprehensively each time.
“I’m not disappointed with the year.
“But you have to give credit where it’s due and give it to Baa Baas.”