Mount Albert Grammar School: 15 (Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa, Isaiah Papalii tries; Niven Longopoa 1 con, 1 pen) Sacred Heart College: 13 (Melino Huihui’Uia try; George Witana 1 pen, Ben Engels 1 con, 1 pen)
Mount Albert Grammar School have won their 23rd 1A Auckland title, edging Sacred Heart College 15-13 in a torrid and tense decider at Eden Park.
Sacred Heart's title drought is extended to 52 years, but they almost produced a miracle play to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
In the last minute MAGS big pack cradled the ball in tight and cautiously advanced inside the Sacred Heart 22. A fumble was made by MAGS and Scared Heart slung it wide. Reserve Terry Ponga dashed 60-metres and was caught 15-metres shy of the MAGS goal line. Despite being isolated, Ponga recycled cleanly and Sacred Heart stretched to the opposite touchline. Prop Fatongia Paea charged to within five-meters of the line, drawing in two defenders. He attempted to offload to the unmarked winger, but the ball squirted forward. MAGS won the defensive scrum and kicked the ball out to terminate time.
As a spectacle it was a match with few genuinely exciting moments. MAGS played a very direct forwards orientated game, but tough defense by Sacred Heart and basic handling errors often hampered MAGS momentum.
It took 20 minutes for the first points to be scored. A penalty goal was kicked by Sacred Heart First-Five George Witana after a 20-metre burst by sprightly halfback Taufa Funaki.
Two line breaks by slippery MAGS fullback Niven Longopoa resulted in no profit, but a bustling run by halfback Salyn Tonu'u moments before halftime sent Sacred Heart into retreat. MAGS scored the first try when lock and Captain Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa broke two tackles and stretched out.
Down 7-3, Sacred Heart enjoyed their best period of the match immediately after the break. Hooker Joseph Casey rumbled into the MAGS 22 and quick hands down the short side saw winger Melino Huihui’Uia cross unopposed. Fullback Ben Engels converted from near the sideline and it was 10-7 to Sacred Heart.
From the kick-off Sacred Heart blindside Iosefo Masoe made a storming 50-metre run and Engels doubled Sacred Heart's advantage with a successful penalty kick.
Cheekily Longopoa dribbled the ball just over the ten-metre line and reclaimed possession as Sacred Heart was stationed for a deep restart. A penalty was conceded at the ruck and Longopoa made it 13-10.
MAGS mauling from lineouts was outstanding. They frequently shoved Sacred Heart 20-metres backwards and the maul was the source of the winning try. Initially openside Isaiah Papalii broke and chipped ahead towards the Sacred Heart goal line. Sacred Heart managed to clear to the 22, but MAGS pushed hard again and Papalii barged his way over with about ten minutes to go.
MAGS controlled territory and often forced Sacred Heart to kick. MAGS win wasn't pretty, but it was brutally effective. Props Robert Cobb and Michael Palmer enjoyed top games, Papalii became very influential and Tonu'u controlled things nicely, often causing trouble when he ran.
For Sacred Heart openside Jack McHugh enhanced his growing reputation, No.8 Hoskins Sotutu had some vibrant moments, second-five AJ Kepaoa was rock solid on defense and Witana used what little ball he had effectively.
MAGS will play the winner of Westlake BHS v Whangarei BHS for a place in the National Top Four. MAGS have won the top four twice in 1982 and 2010.
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