Five wins in a row by a combined margin of eight points has earned St Peter's College a third National Top Four Championship.
In a season dedicated to fallen and influential rugby alumni, Jamie Brown, Dylan Mika and Peter Watt, St Peter's stunned Napier Boys’ High School 31-28 - rallying from a 21-0 deficit.
Down 21-12 two inspirational moments from captain Niko Jones propelled St Peter's into a lead they never lost.
In the 42nd minute Jones rejected the prospect of a straight forward penalty kick, opting instead for a scrum inside the Napier 22. In an almost identical fashion, and at the same time as Friday's try against Hamilton Boys’ High School, Jones combined with his halfback to set up wing PJ Tonga.
A few moments later Napier bobbled a lineout on halfway and Jones retrieved the loose ball and strode into the clear. Exhibiting startling acceleration Jones pulled clear off the Napier chasers and St Peter’s led 22-21. The conversion from the side-line by AJ Faleafaga made it 24-21.
Napier responded with a concerted assault on the St Peter’s line. Prop Patrick Teddy knocked on attempting to reach out. From the five-meter scrum St Peter’s centre Apetone Vaka busted and reached the Napier 22, unloading for openside Chris Halaufia who finished spectacularly. Again Faleafaga was on target from touch.
Halaufia would have been most relived with his contribution. In the first-half he burst clear, only to stumble agonisingly short and surrender a penalty. Napier failed to find touch from the clearance kick, but when fullback Josh Loveday was charged down by Napier pivot Henry Williams it was suddenly 21-0 - the latter sprinting 50-metres.
Napier’s start was passionate and polished. The first try was scored by wing Jayden Stok, joining a dozen players in a maul.
Napier doubled their advantage when Teddy muscled over following sustained ‘pick and goes.’ Teddy, or ‘Baby Yoda’ because of his uncanny resemblance to Napier Boys’ All Black Greg Somerville, has been a consistent and powerful performer all season.
What triggered the turnaround?
Vice-Captain Loveday was sensationally dragged following the Williams setback. The inexperienced Faleafaga (Year 10) was moved to fullback where he had more room to express himself while Reece Suesue steadied the ship at ten.
St Peter’s forwards boasted their intensity and Jones was able to manufacture a try for Vaka just before the break to make the halftime score 21-5.
St Peter’s lock Leo Ngatai-Tafau was one of the Saints best at this top four and a stolen lineout resulted in a try for prop ‘Mount’ Zyon Holo after patience side to side attack.
Down 31-21, Napier showed their fighting qualities when hooker Tyrone Thompson battered through with ten minutes to spare.
St Peter’s have become masters of winning the tight tussles though and with Jones in rare form the Saints were generally able to anchor themselves in the right part of the field and terminate the clock.
Napier fell short for the fifth time in the decider. Remarkably in the 37 year history of the National Top Four, a Hawke’s Bay school has been represented 15 times.
St Peter’s finished the season with a 17-3 record and the Moascar Cup for the first time since 2000. St Peter’s won the National Top Four previously in 1987 and 2000.
It’s hard to think of a more stirring run of victories from any top four winner than what the ‘Slender Saints’ have pulled off in 2018. From fourth in Auckland to first in New Zealand.
St Peter’s giant killing run
1A Semi-Final: St Kentigern College, 22-21
1A Final: King’s College, 29-28
Blues Final: Westlake Boys’ High School, 19-17
National Top Four Semi-Final: Hamilton Boys’ High School, 8-7
National Top Four Final: Napier Boys’ High School, 31-28
Hamilton Boys’ High School made a lightning start against Christchurch Boys’ High School, scoring three converted tries and taking a 21-0 lead, on their way to their 43-25 win in the boys 3 v 4 match.
Christchurch came roaring back to score three tries themselves, but none were converted from wide out and they approached halftime trailing 15-21. Christchurch did well not to concede another try in the lead-up to the oranges but desperate defence saved the day.
However Hamilton took control of the second half, laying on the game’s next three tries, all from attacking scrums inside Christchurch’s 22. This advanced their lead to 36-15.
Christchurch scored off a lineout drive to close to 36-20, but Hamilton crossed again to seal the win. The South Island champions had the final say, scoring to make the final score 43-25 to Hamilton.
Hamilton Girls' muzzle Manukura
Hamilton Girls’ High School are National champions for a third time trouncing Manukura 42-7. Hamilton won all 16 games this season and scored 962 points.
The first 20 minutes was evenly contested, but a four try flurry before the interval settled the outcomeHamilton tighthead Vic Rose-Green was named the D3 player of the match. She scored two tries, one in each half, and delivered a skip pass to Lela Ieremia to engineer another try in an imperious display.
Manukura briefly held a 7-5 lead when a Carys Dalinger pass hit Nicola Chase in the clear, but an instant reply by Hamilton hooker Hunter Randle, following a bulldozing charge by lock Veisinia Fakelau, restored Hamilton’s advantage.
A fumble by Dallenger, swooped upon by Kiriana Nolan, was the setback that really hurt Manukura. It was a soft concession after an honest fight.
Hamilton turned with a 25-7 buffer after Shae Daily scored the sixth try of the first-half supporting a Jazmin Hotham bust.
After five misses openside Nyesha Hamilton wobbled over a penalty to make it 28-7.
Standout halfback Montessa Tairakena produced the most memorable moment of the second period with a 50-meter runaway.
Manukura only formed a First XV in 2014. They are well led by Lucy Brown and Kalyn Takitimu-Cook, Carys Dalinger and Nicola Chase have already featured in the Manawatu women's team. The future appears to be bright.
Hamilton holds both the National Sevens and First XV crowns.
Superior physicality and size paved the way for Aorere College’s 39-24 win over Southland Girls’ High School in the 3 v 4 girls playoff.
Playing with width and speed, Southland leapt to a three-try, 17-0 lead inside as many minutes and a one-sided win to the 2016 winners appeared likely.
But Aorere got their hands on the ball and employed a direct running approach. Keeping the ball close to the ruck, they made inroads and broke through to score the game’s next three tries and take a 17-15 lead into halftime. Hard running No. 8 Ana Mamea scored two of these tries.
Early in the second half a booming break by openside flanker Hulita Ahosivi set up a second try to midfielder Jireh Malo, and then No. 8 Mamea crossed for her hat-trick from a 5-metre scrum and the Aucklanders led 29-17.
Aorere scored two more tries, including a second to openside Ahovisi to lead 39-17 with about 10 minutes to play.
Southland kept fighting and their reward was the final two tries of the match, one each to their locks Jaidene Marshall and Libby Napier.
St Peter's Cambridge have become the first team since St Kentigern College in 2011 to successfully defend the National co-ed title - pipping Rangiora High School 33-26.
The winning try was scored with five minutes remaining by No.8 Andrew Viane, smashing through the last line of defense after persistent attack. The winning moment could be described as a ‘Cinderella’ try. Viane finished despite a lost boot a couple of phases earlier.
Such an intense climax appeared unlikely when St Peter's charged to a 19-0 lead in as many minutes. Wing Justin Vela-Reynolds, halfback Cam Roigard and Viane crossed the chalk in a clinical opening.
Roigard appears to be a particularly promising prospect. A swift and accurate pass is complimented by an ability to snipe at timely moments.
Rangiora’s first try was scored by centre Anthony Taverdale from a scrum set move, but a Roigard dummy and dart made it 26-7 at halftime.
Rangiora blindside Josh Neilson was tireless and tenacious. A robust carry and offload in a two-man tackle created a try for lively wing Jermaine Pepe. The conversion by Jack Marshall closed the deficit to 26-14.
Rangiora captain and No.8 Angus Fletcher must be knocking on the door of National selection. A huge workrate is combined with intelligence. Rangiora’s third try was the best illustration of Fletcher’s qualities.
Fletcher bumped the ball halfway up the padding of the posts before lowering it in the grasp of a tackle to the base to secure five points.
With 12 minutes left Rangiora squared the ledger when reserve wing Rawiri Peita-King dotted down in the corner outflanking St Peter's retreating cover.
St Peter's appeared flustered when they lost their structure but earning three of the last four penalties, all from ruck turnovers, helped secure the possession and field position required for victory. Openside Devin Gregory was a strong presence for St Peter’s and lock Vaiolini Ekuasi was occasionally explosive.
Rangiora fullback Del Mackintosh deputised competently at halfback and was well supplied in the second-half by a determined, smaller pack.
Rangiora are one of the most heartwarming stories in First XV rugby in 2018. Three years ago they won four games in the UC Championship. In 2018 they beat Christchurch Boys’ High School for the first time and reached the semi-finals of their local competition playing with local cattle and an abundance of genuine spirit.
Mount Albert Grammar School won the Co-ed third-fourth playoff match, beating locals Feilding High School 16-10.
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