- By Adam Julian
New Zealand Schools: 55 (Jay Cameron, Tevita Naufahu 2, Oli Mathis 2, Kiseki Fifita, Shaun Kempton, Logan Wallace tries, Rico Simpson 6 con, pen) Australia U18: 36 (Dre Pakeho, Toby Brial 2, Luca Cleverley, Boston Fakafanua tries; Hwi Sharples 3 con, pen, Finn Prass con) HT: 29-24. Referee: Will Pugsley. Venue: Viking Park, Canberra
New Zealand cracked half a century in a rollicking spectacle that was officially the highest-scoring contest between the two countries stretching back to 1978.
In sweltering temperatures, the visitors were behind 17-24 moments before halftime. However, a flurry of 38 unanswered points ensured the Aussies conceded 50 for the first time in 39 internationals.
The hosts were more exuberant and precise from the outset. Openside Harry Davis busted near a ruck to create initial momentum and then centre Dre Pakeho clattered past weak tacking to open the Aussies’ account.
New Zealand regrouped quickly with a strong lineout drive and a break by Jay Cameron. The Westlake Boys’ centre dashed 25 meters with a right-foot step that turned the opposing fullback into knots.
Australian halfback Hwi Sharples was dynamic and clever. He added considerable spark to their attack but when a loose pass was fetched by the imposing Micah Fale from St John’s College, Hamilton, Tevita Naufahu finished a 90-metre swoop between the pair at the opposite end.
A Rico Simpson penalty had New Zealand ahead 17-7 before Australia really turned up the heat. A Shane Wilcox snipe down the left wing started a movement involving, juggles, deflections, forwards, and backs, and a try for No.8 Toby Brial.
Ironically Brial’s brother Joe plays for Canterbury in the NPC and would have a second when blindside Aden Ekanayake daggered through from a supremely timed Sharples pass and found the son of Wallaby Michael on his inside.
New Zealand captain and openside Oli Mathis has looked a cut above most this season and when the Kiwis needed their captain to steady the ship, he duly delivered with a left-hand palm to the face of a rival and a 30-metre sprint clear.
Naufahu plays wing or centre for St Kentigern College. With the last play of the first spell, he slashed through non-existent defense in a 35-meter gallop that dampened Australian spirits.
New Zealand was ruthless and stylish in the opening quarter of the second spell with Mathis a colossus. He scored a second try with a 20-metre run and then burst 60-metres and to everyone’s surprise found prop Logan Wallace beside his left shoulder close to the paint. Hooker Manumaua Letiu was among the best for Christchurch Boys’ High School in 2023. Typically, a brutish carrier he flicked deftly from his left hip to Southland Boys’ flyer Kiseki Fifita who had a clear 40-meter sprint to the line.
Australia finished with a flourish and fittingly Boston Fakafanua had the final say. The second five was a constant threat and calmly collected a kick-in behind the black wall.
New Zealand scored 146 points across three games. Simpson and Mathis appear set for big futures.