Wellington College: 31 (Penalty try, Ulutoto Malu, Ben Tuiomanufili, Nelson Asofa Solomona, Nathan Blundell tries, Luke Campbell 3 con) Nelson College: 31 (Tom Hill, Kerehama Barrett, Steven Soper, Te Puoho Stephens tries, Mitchell Drummond, 3 pen, 1 con)
Last year, Andrew Quinlivan scored a magnificent 85 meter try in the Quadrangular final to win the title for Wellington College. In 2012, Nelson’s Steven Soper and Te Puoho Stephens scored “tries for the ages” as Nelson College almost ended Wellington College’s ten year reign with the title.
Down 26-21, midway through the second half, Nelson’s Soper bustled through a ruck, five meters short of halfway, fooled the Wellington College fullback with an outrageous dummy and flashed away to score a spectacular individual try to tie the scores.
Moments later, left winger Te Puoho Stephens fended off his marker and sprinted 45 metres to score an equally stunning try to catapult Nelson into a shock 31-26 lead.
Earlier Wellington College appeared to have the title sealed. Despite Nelson starting briskly, by scoring the first ten points of the game, Wellington’s forward power appeared to have Nelson well under control.
A 30 meter break by Nelson centre, Louis Saunders-Loder, created the first try of the game for prop Tom Hill, but Wellington soon settled into their work.
Relentless pressure on the Nelson goal line resulted in a penalty try from a collapsed maul. Nelson open side flanker Steven Soper was sin binned for the infringement and that played a big role in three tries being scored by Wellington.
Wellington’s forward power was merciless as the pack besieged the Nelson defence with their explosive running game. Number 8 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, hooker Ezekiel Sopoaga and lock Ulutoto Malu were especially productive as a succession of barging runs, offloads and rucks and mauls inside the Nelson half, saw a 26-13 Wellington advantage established at halftime.
The game changed early in the second half when Nelson began driving in the forwards and, at one stage, put together a staggering 32 phase attack. The sequence of play lasted nearly four minutes, and saw Asofa Solomona sin binned for a ruck offence. It came after an earlier team warning for persistent infringements.
Nelson’s tight-knit running game, based around the work of Soper, halfback Mitchell Drummond and second-five Tamaira Raurimu-Carew, is what brought them back into the contest. Their continuity was outstanding and holes finally started to open up out wide. Impressive, but underutilized, winger Kerehama Barrett scored the first try of the comeback, before Soper and Stephens performed their heroics.
Nelson continued their approach of preserving the ball close to the ruck, right to the end of the game. Unfortunately it was to be to their detriment.
A turnover inside their own 22, when they could have cleared the ball, allowed Wellington one last chance to attack. An inevitable SBW-style off load by Asofa-Solomana created an overlap out wide which saw fullback Nathan Blundell scurry over in the right corner to tie the scores. Halfback Luke Campbell missed a tough conversion attempt, from an acute sideline angle, 25 metres out, pushing the ball to the left of the uprights, 31-31 at fulltime!
Wellington will be seriously alarmed with their decrease in intensity at the beginning of the second half. They had Nelson on the canvas and failed to deliver the knockout blow. However the composure shown to score their last match-saving try was commendable.
Nelson, with the return of Steven Soper following a long injury layoff, now boasts a more dynamic pack than it did earlier in the season. Their backline is among the best in the country and, if they maintain their excellence from the second half today, they are a genuine threat for the South Island title.
The result is the first draw in a quadrangular final since the 1983 decider between Wellington College and Wanganui Collegiate. It’s the first draw between Wellington and Nelson since 1986, and just the second time a college game has been drawn on the rugby channel. It also equals the record for the highest scoring Quad final and breaks the record for the highest scoring game between the two colleges.
Though why IRB regulations prevent Under 19 games from being decided in extra time, in the event of a tie, is a mystery. The suggestion should be tabled for serious consideration. Today’s superb contest deserved to have a winner!
Acknowledgments: Dave Henderson, Christ’s College Facebook Page.