In 2019, the Nelson College 1st XV pulled off a feat only one side before had managed to achieve, winning the UC Championship, a symbol of secondary school rugby supremacy north of the Waitaki River. The showpiece event on the Crusaders 1st XV calendar since 2001, Nelson has only managed two titles since its inception. The first in 2007 had an unlikely hero, writes Jonty Dine.
Kim Bateman had been playing rugby less than two years before he was running out for the 1st XV.
Now based in Manly where he works at a gym and plays Shute Shield rugby for the Marlins, Kim still recalls the day in 2007 when he created Nelson College history after coming off the reserve bench.
Nelson had enjoyed a dominant year and were unbeaten in the UC Championship. Hosting the final for the first time, a crowd of 3000 spectators packed the school for the showdown against St Bedes.
“There was a lot of hype throughout the school, everyone was behind us. It was an awesome buzz,” Kim says.
The significance of the occasion was not lost on the team.
“There was a lot of pride in the jersey and we talked about our chance to make history and of the players that came before.”
Encouraged to take up rugby by his friends, Kim didn’t even know the rules when he laced up his boots as a sixth former.
“I was a bit of a dark horse. No one knew who I was, but it was a really good vibe. We had an awesome team, from coaches to players.”
The now 30-year-old says the pre-game walk from behind the school gym to the front field was a special moment.
“The sound of the boots on the concrete, everyone was switched on and the energy was something I will never forget.”
Buoyed by the boisterous home crowd, Nelson raced out to a 21-5 lead after just 15 minutes thanks to tries by Ricky Kennett, Sam Westernra and Mitchell Thwaites.
However, the visitors weathered the storm and staged a strong comeback to square things up at 21-all.
James Lash kicked a penalty to edge Nelson ahead, then with fifteen minutes remaining coach Peter Grigg put a nervous Kim on at right-wing.
Kim didn’t see much action come his way early on but as time ticked away, he found himself in a position to win the game.
A charge down from Westernra saw Thwaites scoop up the ball and link with Kim on the wing.
“I only had to run 10 metres, but it felt like 50.”
With a St Bedes player screaming across field to make the cover tackle, Kim urged himself not to make a mistake.
“I was just thinking ‘get the ball to ground. Don’t drop it. Everyone is watching.’”
As Kim forced leather to grass, he says he was overwhelmed with pure relief and excitement.
“It felt surreal, the crowd went crazy.
“We were all so proud and there was a buzz throughout the school for the rest of year.”
Kim’s Nelson College training top, with Press Cup Champions inscribed on it, still takes pride of place in his wardrobe.
“It was a special year and we were a pretty tight outfit. I have won a few club championships before, but that win was right up there.”
Nelson College 31: Ricky Kennett, Sam Westenra, Mitchell Thwaites, Kim Bateman (tries) James Lash (4 cons, 1 cpen).
St Bedes 26: Jason Morgan, Hamish Catherwood, Alex Ryan (tries) Logan Taylor (3 pens, 1 con)