Rugby: Mt Albert Grammar take First XV title

By Campbell Burnes

Mt Albert Grammar players celebrate after the win during the Auckland 1st XV final. Photo / Dean Purcell
Mt Albert Grammar players celebrate after the win during the Auckland 1st XV final. Photo / Dean Purcell

Mt Albert Grammar are the Auckland 1A First XV champions for the 23rd occasion and first since 2010 after edging Sacred Heart 15-13 in a tense, absorbing struggle before a good crowd at Eden Park.

MAGS were the best side all season but could not shake a tenacious Sacred Heart outfit desperate to break a 51-year title drought.

The early tactics from the underdogs were clear, slow the ball down and play to their forward strengths, not to mention tackling like demons. It almost worked, but Sacred Heart could not command their lineout ball nor dominate field position and their scrum weapon was not as telling.

The collision contest was brutal, but the standout player was MAGS No 7 Isaiah Papali'i, who scored the winning try after a lineout drive. He carried well all match. It is a shame he will be lost to league.

A pivotal moment came just before halftime when MAGS skipper Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa burst through a ruck and reached out for MAGS to take a 7-3 lead into the break.

Sacred Heart regained the initiative through a try to wing Melino Huihui'Uia and the accurate boot from the tee of fullback Ben Engels. But MAGS slowly, inexorably, made their possession and position count until a last minute breakout by Sacred Heart very nearly resulted in a try were it not for a gut-wrenching forward pass.

MAGS coach Geoff Moon, who was doused with the Gatorade barrel, now becomes just the second current head coach, after Charlie McAlister, to have won 1A First XV and Gallaher Shield club titles.

MAGS will now face North Harbour champions Westlake BHS in next Saturday's Blues schools finals.

MAGS 15 (W. Reidlinger-Kapa, I. Papali'i tries; N. Longopoa con, pen)
Sacred Heart 13 (M. Huihui'Uia try; B. Engels con, 2 pen)
HT: 7-3

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