Ever since joining the 1st XV, Niko Barton envisioned himself kicking the winning points for Nelson College when practising shots at goal.
On Saturday, this dream became reality when his side wrote their way into the history books.
Niko nailed two difficult side-line conversions which proved the difference as Nelson College claimed a spot in the National Top Four, with a tense 28-26 win against Otago Boys’ High School in Dunedin.
Niko kicked all four conversions and scored two tries in a brilliant 18-point, man-of the match performance.
It was the second successive week Barton’s boot got Nelson over the line, his three penalty goals ensuring victory in the UC Championship final after his side was outscored five tries to four.
The 18-year-old says the psychological challenge has been huge when kicking in these pressure cooker situations.
“It’s been nerve wracking because of the big crowds, I just try to calm myself down, talk myself through what I have to do and shut out the noise.”
Nelson had to dig deep in the final moments as Otago hammered away with the crowd right behind them.
“It was pretty scary because we were defending for about ten minutes, up by two points so we knew any penalty would give them the game.”
Though as they have done all season, the side showed plenty of composure and tenacity to survive the onslaught and earn a spot in the country’s Top Four for the first time in the competition’s history.
It was a similar story during the UC semi-final and Quadrangular final where Nelson was camped on its own line in the final stages with less than a seven-point lead.
Niko credits the team culture for its ability to survive the intense pressure of finals footy.
“We have great leaders like Anton (Segner) and Mason (Lund) – they just keep us focussed on our roles.”
The pressure won’t relent yet as Nelson head to Palmerston North on Friday to play Kings College.
“From what we’ve seen they are quite big so it will be a new challenge, but we will be up for it.”
Niko says he has full confidence that his side can knock over the Auckland champions and go on to defeat the winners of Hastings Boys vs Hamilton Boys in the other semi-final to claim an inaugural national title. “It’s about more than just the rugby,” says Niko. “We play for each other.”
No doubt if Nelson are to push the North Island juggernauts, Niko’s form with the boot will need to be on song.
National Top Four semi-final:
Nelson College vs Kings College, 1:10pm on Friday, September 6 in Palmerston North.
(vs winner of Hastings vs Hamilton), 2:10pm on Sunday, September 8 in Palmerston North.
Nelson College 28 (Niko Barton 2, Taya Brown, Hunter Griffith tries; Barton 4 con), Otago Boys’ 26 (Michael Manson, Taylor Dale, Max Brown, Tevita Pole tries; Tevita Asi con, Jack Holland- Spinks 2 con). Halftime 14-12.