Wesley College has defied numbers, expectations and the form book to win through to a 7th National Top Four final, inflecting a first defeat upon St Bede’s College in 2011.
A charge down from the first kick of the game suggested it would be a lively and unpredictable affair. Hagen Scuttle attempting to find touch had the ball deflected and poached by Wesley leading to a long sequence of attack and hooker Hame Faiva driving over, 5-0. Wesley may have one of their smallest teams in many years but the improved mobility of their forwards was a big factor in their triumph. Wesley’s tactic of committing few numbers to the breakdown and running in close before recycling promptly and releasing to the backs was a source of success. The ability of the backs and forwards to combine in attack was showcased many times to.
The second try saw fast hands by number 8 and Captain Louis Rogers free Blessing Mulitalo-Malu down the left wing. The second five, starting from the ten meter line crossed halfway before driving a kick down field. A high bounce sprung away from the St Bede’s fullback and back into the hands of Mulitalo-Malu, who despite the coverage of three retreating defenders was able to offload to supporting flanker Penitoa Finau, 10-0.
The St Bede’s backs looked organised and threatening when they had the ball but prefect anticipation and timing led to Wesley’s third try when Mulitalo-Malu intercepted and sprinted 50 meters. Bradford Lemalufaitoaga missed his third easy conversion, 15-0.
Character and set-piece precision are two qualities that have defined St Bede’s this season. Those qualities allowed the South Island champions to roar back into the game and only trail by six at halftime, 23-17. The St Bede’s lineout was a source of strength and effectively laid on three tries. A beautiful set move saw left winger Jesse Bryant breakthrough and supply lively fullback Yoshikazu Fujita. More clean-lineout ball resulted in Moses Faletolu scoring and then an overthrow by Hame Faiva was stolen by flanker Billy Harmon who fell over the line.
St Bede’s employed a cautious game plan which involved Hagen Schulte pursing territory with constant kicking. Though Wesley committed a highly unusual amount of errors at the start of the second half, which enabled St Bede’s to press, this plan would ultimately prove to be St Bede’s downfall. St Bede’s backs, when given space, looked as dangerous as any, but they were starved of the ball with Schulte’s over kicking. St Bede’s did claim the lead for a short time when Captain Shayne Anderson busted and linked with Fujita to post St Bede’s fourth try, Schulte converted wonderfully from the sideline, 24-23, but at a kick which found hand instead of land was the turning point.
Wesley fullback Sione Molia returned a kick on the full at the ten meter line. Some tricky footwork and acceleration fooled the St Bede’s defense. The Wesley back three which looked dangerous all day was always capable of producing something stunning and Moila’s break was the inspiration required. Molia carried the ball to the 22 before Faiva received in support and with a big right foot step turned Fujita dizzy and reclaimed the lead for Wesley, 28-24. The mercurial Lemalufaitoaga nailed the conversion from near the sideline, 30-24.
The momentum of the game changed after Faiva’s stunning try. Wesley through some smart tactical kicking hassled St Bede’s into errors. The tireless work of Penitoa Fianu, Faiva and lock Apenisa Kurisaqila also proved difficult for the St Bede’s defense to contain and eventually a scrum was won five meters out and Rogers drove over for the winning try, Lemalufaitoaga converted, 37-24 the final score.
A fabulous game of rugby which offered a study in contrast has set up a mouth-watering Sunday. St Bede’s will play Napier for third. Both sides are very structured and will be hard to separate. As for the final the flair on display will guarantee high octane excitement and an equally hard fixture to predict.
In the Chiefs v. Southern co education semi final Cambridge High School defeated St Andrews College by 17-10. St Andrews playing their third game this week tried hard against a fresh Cambridge side but fell short. Cambridge now faces the daunting task of trying to beat St Kentigern College in the final.