- By Adam Julian
The New Zealand Secondary Schools’ have beaten the New Zealand Māori U18s 27-24 at St Paul’s Collegiate, Hamilton this afternoon.
New Zealand hung on by the length of a nostril-hair, pummelled into retreat for the best part of the last 10 minutes.
The Māori had repeat scrums five-metres shy of the New Zealand line, appealed feverishly for a try (a pick and go drive was called short) and reduced New Zealand to 14 players for repeat infringements.
A fairytale win wasn’t to be. New Zealand, to their credit, and huge relief, held firm against essentially a third-string selection.
New Zealand was spooked early conceding two converted tries. Gisborne Boys’ High School winger King Maxwell made a thrilling 40-metre break, stood up the fullback, and enabled Napier Boys’ High School flanker Max Ratcliffe to power over a few phases later.
Then livewire halfback Kade Manuel-Green (Feilding High School) poached an intercept and dashed 60-metres clear as the Māori doubled their score. First-five Rico Simpson (Sacred Heart College, Auckland) had an excellent all-round game, faultless from the tee.
The New Zealand Schools’ were nervy and clearly unsettled by the Māori energy and aggression. It took a break by the fleet-footed Payton Spencer (son of All Black Carlos Spencer) to set up Xavier Tito-Harris (Kelston Boys’ High School).
Hamilton Boys’ winger Caelys-Paul Putoko scored the winning try in the National Top Four final. Following better continuity from his forwards he scampered into the right corner following an offload from bustling blindside Blair Tagi-Fuimaono (St Peter’s College, Auckland).
Southland Boys’ High School openside Josh Evans was an absolute standout for the Māori. Not the largest flanker by any means, Evans was everywhere and his try spearing through like a missile had the Māori up 21-12.
The only blemish Simpson could be accused of was being too casual on the last clearance of the first half. Ambling into his 22 he was eventually charged down by Stanley Solomon who gathered the rebound to score. It was typical of Solomon who has thrilled Wellington College fans with his flair and hustle the past three seasons. It was 21-17 at the interval.
New Zealand took ownership of proceedings after halftime and were rewarded when Tagi-Fuimaono scored a try collecting a deflected pass from the wing.
Simpson reclaimed the lead for the Māori with a 25-metre angled penalty, but New Zealand was largely in control. The threat of Spencer loomed large and his pass amongst traffic to Star Sami from 1A championship winning First XV Kelston Boys’ High School gave New Zealand a 27-24 lead they never lost.
Both sides emptied their benches in an excellent game of rugby with dramatic shifts in momentum.
Theoretically New Zealand should win by more but remember in 2018 the Māori upset the New Zealand Barbarians in Porirua 21-20. The long-awaited rematch of that fixture happens on Saturday at 12:30pm while the New Zealand Schools’ tackle Fiji Schools’ at 2:30pm. Both fixtures are at St Paul’s Collegiate.
Earlier today the Barbarians beat Fiji Schools’ 50-14. It was 14-14 after 25 minutes before the Barbarians pulled clear. Scoring details of that game are below.
Left Wing: Jole Naufahu (University of Waikato Rugby Club), 3
Fullback: Ratu Naborsi (Kelston Boys’ High School)
Blindside: Riki Ruben (Mount Albert Grammar School)
Centre: Cooper Roberts (Marlborough Boys’ College), 2
Reserve Hooker: Hendrix Taylor (Marist Albion RFC, Christchurch)
First-Five: Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula (College Old Boys RFC, Manawatu), 5 con
Watch a full replay of the second match here: