Napier Boys High School continued their giant killing exploits in the Hurricanes finals today stunning Super 8 Champions Gisborne Boys High School, 23-21 to earn an unexpected but thoroughly deserved place at the National Top Four.
Played at Massey University in Palmerston North, a small but vocal crowd watched a thrilling match which saw the lead change several times and reinforce just how even many teams are in 2011. Napier started with vigor! Blindside, Matt Gardner and Number Eight, Levi Guildford were a dominant presence with their powerful running. Gardner’s first touch resulted in a break which saw Napier swing onto attack and Manihera Eden complete the first try, 5-0. More excellent work from Guildford then saw Jackson Neilson positioned for a penalty, 8-0. Napier played aggressive and disciplined rugby in the first ten minutes, dominating territory and forcing Gisborne into mistakes. Like Wellington last week, Napier’s tough tacking around the fringe’s stifled Gisborne. Gisborne however was next to score when halfback Sheridan Rangihuna sweetly struck a penalty, 8-3.
Gisborne’s first try was scored against the run of play. Jackson Neilson burrowed through the Gisborne midfield defense and nudged a chip into space. The ball bounced cruelly for the over committed Neilson and fell into the hands of Tamati Samuels. From about sixty meters out, the fleet-footed fullback stepped past a Napier defender and burst ahead. He then located Beaudien Waaka and the first-five outpaced the defense to score a great try, Rangihuna converted, 10-8. Neilson restored Napier’s lead with a second penalty, 11-10, Rangihuna responded, 13-11.
Napier enjoyed a prosperous period before halftime. Some quick clearances from halfback Jono Ruru and a series of strong surges by the Guildford, Gardner duet extended the Gisborne defense. Eventually Trinity Spooner, a tall and solid fullback, was able to step and draw the remaining Gisborne defenders and offload to winger Karl Hewitt to score in the corner, 16-13 in favor of Napier at halftime. It could have been worse for Gisborne had Neilson not missed three kicks and desperate scramble denied centre Leo Ene.
Gisborne have had a habit this season of starting the second spell strongly and today was no exception. Rangihuna leveled the scores with his third penalty, 16-16 and the Gisborne forwards played with greater urgency. Toa Halafihi in particular is a handful with ball in hand and the scrum functioned better than it did against Wellington. In fact one of the highlights of Guildford ‘s performance was his ability, when harassed from sideways or backwards scrums, to gain ground and release the ball.
The game was generally played in tremendous sprint but there was some niggle off the ball which resulted in a warning being issued by the referee. Ironically a benign incident resulted in Gisborne winger Jonte Lexmond being sinbined! Wrong footed, Lexmond made a meek high tackle and was dismissed to the shock of even Napier. Gisborne, despite being outnumbered actually played the better rugby in this period. A breakout by Tamati Samuels was especially exciting. Retrieving a well placed kick, Samuels from near his own goal line, swatted aside three Napier defenders and flashed 50 meters down field before being halted.
Lexmond returned and Gisborne amplified the pressure. Waaka, whose vision suggests he is a player of high quality, jabbed a kick towards the Napier posts, which following a feverish Gisborne chase, they had to hurry out, then Rangihuna had two penalty shots narrowly miss. Eventfully Gisborne’s overwhelming weight of possession told and Captain Conon Houkamu was able to offload in a two-man tackle and send an angry Lexmond flying 25 meters to score, Rangihuna’s third successive miss would prove costly, 21-16.
Gisborne made a careless error from the kick off! Regaining the ball expertly, several players unfortunately ventured in front of the Gisborne clearer which led to a Napier penalty. A prefect kick by Napier found touch five meters out from the Gisborne line. Napier, superior in this facet, especially after Chance Beckett-Ria left the field, secured cleanly and mounted a drive. This was suppressed by Gisborne but the strength of Gardiner couldn’t be. After a few cracks by teammates, the blindside muscled in beside the posts, 21-21, Neilson converted, 23-21.
Such was the drama of the game Napier’s attempts to guard possession close to the ruck were fruitless as was their initial attempt to kick the ball out and end the game. The ball was charged and bounced wildly. A disputed knock on was ruled against Gisborne 15 meters away from the Napier line. Napier’s scrum held its nerve, the ball was cleared and the “Sky Blues” after 70 enthralling minutes are heading to Rotorua for the Top 4, joining Kelston, Wesley and St Bede’s.
Acknowledgments: GBHS 1st and 2nd XV facebook page for the photos. A full set can be found here http://www.facebook.com/pages/SKY-Sport-College-Rugby/198128190226813#!/media/set/?set=a.10150276097484699.352571.189478454698&type=1