“I was in the ruck. When I looked up and saw that, I thought we’d lost,” Semisi Tapa from St Peter's College recalls of the dying stages of the 1A Auckland rugby final against King’s College on Saturday.
Down 28-29, Kings centre Lukas Halls busted down the left wing and kicked ahead into open space, leading the charge for the ball only to fumble five metres short of the line.
St Peter's had to clear from the defensive scrum to win the match.
“I was screaming ‘we need this,’ ‘we need this,’ Niko Jones told me to relax,” Tapa laughs.
Tapa’s intensity was a big reason for St Peter’s success. The powerful blindside flanker scored a try and made a series of rigourous runs and smashing tackles in a Player of the Match display. The St Peter’s start was dreamlike - ahead 17-3 after 20 minutes.
“I think that’s the best rugby we’ve played this season. We haven’t started well against the big teams so we wanted to change that on Saturday,” Tapa reveals.
“When we ran out on to Eden Park and saw how much support we had, that was pretty inspiring,” Tapa continues.
King’s rallied from their large initial deficit and claimed the lead early in the second-half. St Peter’s regrouped quickly and didn’t lose the lead for in the last 20 minutes.
“I was pretty nervous when King’s got ahead, but we had to relax and go back to our systems. King’s are a great team and we expected them to come back,” Tapa says.
The leadership of Niko Jones helped St Peter’s maintain cool heads.
“Niko is a good player and a great guy. He has the respect of all the boys and it’s pretty cool when his dad (Sir Michael Jones) helps out occasionally,” Tapa acclaims.
Dylan Mika and Peter Watt were two figures who helped St Peter’s rugby out considerably. The former was an All Black and Samoan flanker who attended St Peter’s and took an avid interest in affairs after leaving. Watt was a teacher and old boy at the college for 30 years and had a vast involvement in rugby. Both men passed this year and Tapa insists the contribution of both is never far from the thoughts of the team.
“We are very grateful for what Peter and Dylan did for the school. Dylan was especially close with Niko and Michael so it’s important we play for them, when we play.”
Tapa is determined to do his family proud every time he plays and one of the most enduring images for the final was of Tapa leaping into the stand to embrace his folks at fulltime.
“I felt so great. The crowd was going crazy and I just wanted to see my family. When I saw them I jumped up and forgot to worry about being injured,” Tapa laughs.
St Peter’s will play the winner of Westlake Boys’ High School and Kaitaia College in the Blues Regional final in two weeks’ time. The winner of the match will advance to the National Top Four.
St Peter’s won the National Top Four in 1987 and 2000.
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