Tauranga Boys' College once again proved they can match it with New Zealand's best First XV's despite losing 29-24 to Hamilton Boys' High School at Nicholson Field on Saturday.
The Waikato boys are unbeaten in this year's Super 8 and have flogged the rest of the teams they have played, having been tested only once in the one-point loss to Tauranga Boys' the last time they met in the Chiefs Cup.
The magnitude of the second half comeback will give Tauranga plenty of confidence if they meet again in the Top Four qualifiers later this season.
But Tauranga will rue a poor, nervous start in turning over far too much ball and making a string of unforced errors against the efficient Hamilton side.
Hamilton struck quickly with their tall, athletic lock Samuel Chongkit slicing open the Tauranga defence to set up the opening try and within 10 minutes of play Tauranga were 14-0 down.
Led by some industry up front from hooker Sonny Anderson and props Leighton Hika and Aiden Ross, Tauranga rocked the Moascar Cup holders back in their own territory and scored a well deserved try through fullback Burton McAdam.
A lapse of concentration from the kickoff let Hamilton back on attack and they needed no second chance as centre Legim Hotham scored a fine try.
Down 21-5 at the break, it looked curtains for Tauranga but they have a fine team culture and no little skill, so with a freshening breeze behind their backs they got stuck into their work and pressured Hamilton into some rare errors.
The comeback started after a clever pop pass from centre George Honey put Christian Kelly into space and the solidly built winger showed what a fine finisher he is to score his fifth try in the past three games and tenth for the season.
Trailing 21-12, Tauranga scored again two minutes later when Josh Honey made a clean break out from his own half and linked well with skipper Mungo Mason. Some energetic pick and going nearly paid off on the Hamilton line before flanker Connor Silvester crashed over. Dan Hollinshead converted to close the gap to 21-19 and Hamilton were clearly rattled.
A penalty to Bryn Gatland - son of Lions boss Warren - made it 24-19 before Hamilton showed what a quality team they are by scoring the try of the match to seemingly end the contest at 29-19 with three minutes to play.
But Tauranga were not finished yet and put together some accurate phases that eventually led to a try to George Honey. With time up and only five points the difference, Hollinshead made a superb break from his own 22 but could not quite link with Honey, who may well have been able to sprint away to win the game.
Kelly was philosophical about the loss after the game, saying it felt better than the other one-point losses they have endured this season.
"This is definitely the most pleasing loss as at no stage did we score and let the pressure off," he said. "We were always coming back at them."
A major fundraiser for the Tauranga Boys' First XV tour to England, Wales and Hong Kong in September and October will be held this Friday July 12 upstairs in the school gym from 6pm.
Tickets are $10. Details contact Leigh Kite on 021 386 970 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hamilton Boys' 29 (Caleb Koteweg, Raukawa Neems, Legim Hotham, Te Kapua Murray tries; Bryn Gatland 3 cons, pen) Tauranga Boys' 24 (Burton McAdam, Christian Kelly, Connor Silvester, George Honey tries; Dan Hollinshead 2 cons). Halftime 21-5 HBHS.