Mount Albert Grammar High School: 14 (Isaiah Papali'i try; Oliver Shepherd 3 pen) Hastings Boys' High School: 13 (Jeriah Mau try; Danny Toala 2 pen, 1 con)
Mount Albert Grammar School have won the National Top Four for the third time defeating Hastings Boys' High School 14-13 in a torrid and gripping final in Palmerston North.
Heavy rain made the ball greasy and turned the match into a territorial arm-wrestle. MAGS mauled strongly from the outset and won a penalty inside the Hastings 22 after three minutes. Hooker Oliver Shepherd converted and it was 3-0. MAGS sought repeat lineout drives, but Hastings lock Tane Hohipa was disruptive as both teams struggled to attain momentum.
In the 15th minute MAGS fullback Niven Longopoa caught a high kick inside his 22. He didn't claim a mark and was hammered by the Hastings defense. Longopoa was penalised for hanging on and Danny Toala equalised.
In the 16th minute Hastings lost their captain Kianu Kereru-Symes. The loosehead prop left the field with apparent concussion. The absence of Kereru-Symes gifted MAGS a significant advantage in the scrums. In the 18th minute MAGS scored their only try. A series of robust pick and goes saw openside Isaiah Papali'i wriggle over in traffic. Papali'i won the Land Rover First XV player of the year award. His abrasive defense and bustling carries are an integral component of MAGS success.
Hastings halfback Folau Fakatava has been an instrumental figure in his side, but wasn't available for selection today due to injury. However makeshift halfback Lincoln McClutchie was threatening with his pace around the fringes. In the 26th minute McClutchie broke 40-meters and surged inside the MAGS 22 only to be stopped by wing Harley Maynard and Longopoa.
Toala made to partial breaks, but the MAGS defense was suffocating and it was 8-3 at halftime.
Shepherd extended the lead by three with a second penalty in the 36th minute, before Hastings enjoyed a period of relative control.
In the 40th minute prop Aleki Vuki dropped the ball with vacant pasture ahead after a nice slight on hand by McClutchie.
In the 44th minute a penalty shot was turned down 25-meters directly in front, but a similar chance was taken by Toala three minutes later, 11-6.
MAGS rallied and used their big forwards to battle into the Hastings half. In the 52nd minute Hastings wing Trent Hape was yellow carded for persistent infringements.
In the 54th minute Longopoa flashed through the Hastings defense and sailed into the Hastings 22. He was sliced down in a dramatic tackle by No.8 Devan Flanders. Hastings won a turnover and cleared for touch.
MAGS won the lineout and a penalty for a high tackle which Shepherd kicked to make the score 14-6. The penalty was somewhat unfortunate as the MAGS played slipped into a swinging arm. Hastings threw everything at MAGS in the last quarter, but were unable to win quick ball. MAGS defense was watertight and Hastings turned down easy shots at goal in purist of a try. In the last-minute Jeriah Mau struggled over and Toala converted for a final score of 14-13.
Hastings became the eighth team to lose the top four final after going through the season undefeated. Hooker Jacob Devery, Hohipa, Flanders and McClutchie were among the standouts in a whole-hearted effort.
For MAGS Michael Palmer (3), Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa (5), John Latu (8), Salyn Tonu'u (9), Paul Roache (10), Papali'i and Longopoa were standouts for the best First XV in New Zealand in 2016.
Per Angusta Ad Augusta - Through Hardship to Glory.
Meanwhile in the playoff for third Hamilton Boys' High School finished with a flourish to beat Southland Boys' High School 36-10. Hamilton ends the season with a record of 19 wins in 24 matches.
Southland was far more competitive than what they were on Friday, but struggled to build consistent pressure and lacked Hamilton's speed and power out wide. It was 19-10 at halftime and six tries to one in the finish.
Hamilton Boys' High School: 36 (Raiki Willison 2, Kieran Lee, Elijah Cracknell, Charlie Lawrence, Joshua Moorby tries; Joshua Moorby 2 con Willson 1 con) Southland Boys' High School: 10 (Flynn Thomas try; Mitchell Taylor 1 con, 1 pen)
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