Mount Albert Grammar win national 1st XV title

By Campbell Burnes

Mount Albert Grammar celebrate their national 1st XV title win over Hasting's Boys' High School in Palmerston North on Sunday. Photo / Photosport
Mount Albert Grammar celebrate their national 1st XV title win over Hasting's Boys' High School in Palmerston North on Sunday. Photo / Photosport

Champions of Auckland and the Blues, now Mt Albert Grammar School are national champions for the third time.

MAGS won the inaugural Top 4 championship in 1982 and repeated in 2010 under the coaching of Charlie McAlister.

Now they stand pre-eminent in 2016 with a 19-1 record, though they were made to work hard in slippery conditions by a committed Hastings BHS side in the Palmerston North final.

Hastings entered the game with a spotless 18-0 record for their first Top 4 decider.
The 14-13 final scoreline for the NZ Barbarians Cup was possibly a fair reflection of the ebb and flow in a rugged clash, though Hastings were penalised far more than MAGS and lost two players to the bin and their captain, loosehead prop Kianu Kereru-Symes, to concussion.

MAGS, with the bigger pack, played it tight and to the conditions when they needed to, but found it tough to breach the staunch Hastings defence, even with effective counter-rucking.

Flanker Isaiah Papali'i, who was adjudged Top 4 player of the year with another compelling all-action display, drive over for the opening try from a pick and go. It is a shame this prime young talent will be lost to league.

The likes of prop Rob Cobb and skilled fullback Niven Longopoa shone in the conditions as MAGS extended their halftime lead to 11-3 and then 14-6 via the boot of hooker Oliver Shepherd.

They started to gain traction in the scrums with the absence of Kereru-Symes. Hastings' relationship with referee Tipene Cottrell had disintegrated by the last 15 minutes, but they managed a last gasp try to replacement Jeriah Mua to reduce the final margin to one.

MAGS, it was revealed, had viewed the Chasing Great movie as a team on the Saturday and drew some inspiration from that Richie McCaw biopic.

In the third-fourth playoff, Hamilton BHS dispatched South Island champs Southland BHS 36-10.

The semifinals on Friday saw MAGS play the most brilliant rugby of the tournament to defeat Southland BHS 41-0.

In far drier conditions, they cut loose in a display that was reminiscent of some of their early form in the Auckland 1A competition. If they had kicked their goals, the margin would have topped 50.

Hastings, conversely fought hard to overcome a 10-6 halftime deficit to edge their Super 8 foes Hamilton BHS 18-10.

Feilding HS are the national co-ed champions for the third time. With old boy Sam Whitelock watching on, Feilding won the NZ Barbarians Trophy with a 25-5 victory over Auckland's Aorere in the final. They controlled the tempo and played with more efficiency. Their sole try went to centre Josiah Maraku, who broke from a ruck to score between the uprights after just seven minutes. No 10 Kody Edwards slotted six from seven off the tee, while dynamic fullback Vilimoni Koroi calmly dropped a goal with two minutes to play.

St Peter's of Cambridge sealed third position with a convincing 37-10 win over Burnside HS.

Playing clinical, physical rugby, which had them in control from the first minute, St Peter's signed off on their most successful season yet. There were notable performances from fullback Rewita Biddle, the Norris brothers, and lock Laghlan McWhannell.

In the semifinals, Feilding's defence shut out St Peter's 20-6, while Aorere trumped Burnside 32-13 to advance to their first co-ed final since 2009.

Southland GHS won their maiden Top 4 girls' title, decisively outplaying St Mary's of Wellington 46-29 in the final. Centre Alena Saili was the standout of the decider.

The NZ Schools and NZ Barbarians Schools squad will soon be announced to play their Australia and Fiji counterparts next month in Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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