- By Adam Julian
Wellington have lost their National U19 semi-final to Auckland 21-18 in the most extraordinary and unusual circumstances.
The game stretched to golden point extra time, and it was a penalty to Auckland first five-eighth Zarn Sullivan about 10 metres out in front of the posts, which won the game.
The penalty was conceded for a high tackle at a ruck.
Two minutes earlier, Wellington flyhalf Malo Manuao had kicked a penalty from 10 metres in from touch, 30 metres out, to level the scores at 18-18.
Had the entire 20 minutes of additional time been played it would have been Auckland who advanced by scoring the first try.
No. 8 John Latu made a storming run up the middle of the park and the ball was fired wide to left wing Heremaia Murray who touched down. The try went unconverted and Auckland were ahead 5-0.
Wellington’s set-piece struggled initially, losing a couple of lineouts, although the scrum was powerful all game.
Ironically, Wellington’s lineout would be the source of the first try when lock Taine Plumtree won clean ball and No. 8 Shamus Langton dived over in the 18th minute.
Langton, who had a strong, industrious game, scored a second try by carrying off the back of the scrum, putting Wellington ahead 12-5.
A Manuao penalty just before halftime put them ahead 15-5 at the interval – as they turned to play into the wind.
In the second half Auckland predictably tried to play for territory but lacked accuracy. Sullivan missed touch twice with penalties.
Auckland kicked a penalty to cut the lead to 15-8, slowly arresting the ascendancy.
What happened next will live in infamy. Wellington lock Caleb Delany was yellow carded for not wearing his mouth guard. Previously a warning and a penalty would have occurred before greater sanction, but a recent rule change means a straight yellow.
Delany, with his mouthguard tucked in his sock presumably to communicate clearly, approached the referee complaining of a head knock. Chris Paul judged Delany to be coherent and swiftly applied the letter of the law. Perhaps greater empathy should have been applied, but in the heat of the moment Auckland would profit first when hooker Soane Vikena drove over from a lineout. The handy conversion was missed and Wellington held a 15-13 lead.
In the last 10 minutes, Wellington camped inside Auckland’s 22. The closest they got to scoring was when Manuao made a cross-kick to wing Junior Time-Taotua, who deflected it inside to Plumtree who stormed down the touchline and beat the fullback, losing balance close to the sideline. Plumtree fired an in-pass which rebounded off an Auckland player was grounded by an Auckland player.
Wellington won a penalty from the ensuing Auckland defensive scrum under Auckland’s posts and chose to pack down a scrum. They won another scrum penalty but declined the chance to kick the points.
Auckland then broke out from a penalty and fullback Jack Gray got away up towards the 22 and then centre Patrick Namoa scored to put Auckland up 18-15.
With 30 seconds to play, Wellington won the kick-off and went wide and were awarded a penalty which was kicked to level the scores up and force extra time.
Auckland kicked the ball off deep from the extra time re-start, Wellington kicked it up the middle of the park, faling yo find touch. Auckland pressed hard and Sullivan was positioned for a dropped goal but couldn’t’ take it. Wellington got penalised at the breakdown and Sullivan kicked the winner
This was the first time that a National U19 tournament match has gone to extra time.
It was a brutal encounter. Standouts included Vikena, Auckland No.8 John Latu and lock Robert Rush.
For Wellington Langton was immense, Josh Southall tireless and Isaac Bracewell and Malo Manuao combined effectively. Iona Apineru off the bench had considerable impact.
Finals day – 14 September
The Sir Michael Jones Trophy (3.25pm) and Graham Mourie Cup (5.05pm) Finals will be broadcast live on SKY Sport. Other broadcast matches include the playoff for 11th/12th (12.05pm) and 3rd/4th (1.45pm).