GALLAHER SHIELD FINAL
Forty-eight years of growing pains have ended in emphatic fashion for the Pakuranga club who stormed to a one-sided victory over University in the Gallaher Shield final at Eden Park yesterday.
The celebrations are likely still going at Pakuranga's Bell Park clubrooms after an astonishing seven tries to two shellacking of Varsity which ushered in their first Auckland premier title. It was the biggest defeat in an Auckland premier club final since Ponsonby put Marist to the sword 38-0 in 1993.
Much of Pakuranga's play was electric and they led 34-0 at the break. The contest was by then effectively over, with Varsity looking pedestrian and gun-shy on the tackle.
Pakuranga centre Malakai Fekitoa led his team for his 40th and blazer game and he did not disappoint, relishing the front-foot ball to carve up the University midfield.
The tone was set from the kick-off when Varsity No8 Sean Brookman ran into a green and orange wall which led to an authoritative scrum. Two long breaks followed. This set alarm bells ringing for the students and their coaches.
Young No15 Nick Smith was in sparkling touch from the back, though he will have bought lock Ed Creedy a beer for a superb offload which allowed him to scorch 30m to score between the posts for the opening try. His second was partially down to a fine piece of skill by Fekitoa. Smith's pace did the rest.
Second five Caleb Hall scored the most extraordinary try of the day, running 40m and shedding would-be Varsity tacklers, all the while looking to offload. Wing Aula Silipa hammered a nail into Varsity's coffin with a 50m intercept try.
Varsity were shellshocked, error-ridden and could not work into the Pakuranga 22m more than once in the opening stanza. Pakuranga, conversely, were playing at pace and with penetration. No8 Timote Militoni and hooker Tom McCartney were especially prominent.
Fekitoa hit the second spell running with a 30m try then prop Sam Prattley scored off a Dwayne Polataivao break. Down 48-0 after 48 minutes, Varsity were on their knees. The final then predictably lost its shape, Pakuranga scoring just once more while Varsity gave some respectability to the scoreboard with two late tries.
Fulltime was the signal for an outpouring of joy from Pakuranga's large contingent in the 5000-strong crowd. The long drought was over.
Pakuranga coach Pita Alatini was understandably beaming: "We've been working the whole season towards that kind of performance. When you look at the two forward packs, we knew we had some real power and experience. And this team is still young. Most will be back next year," said the former All Black, in his first year as head coach after a stint as player-coach in 2012.
Pakuranga 55 (N. Smith 2, C. Hall, A. Silipa, M. Fekitoa, S. Prattley, M. Solomon tries; S. Vaevae 7 con, 2 pen) University 12 (R. Grant, S. Dominikovich-Murray tries; S. Marshall con) Halftime: 34-0.