A big second half fightback was not quite enough for the Napier Boys' High School first XV as they ended a short Moascar Cup rugby reign when beaten 25-22 by challengers Rotorua BHS in Napier.
In ideal conditions at the Napier school, Rotorua led 22-0 at halftime and 25-3 soon afterwards before the fightback began in earnest, ending with Rotorua winning the century-old national secondary schools rugby challenge cup for the first time since a short reign in 2003-2004.
"We started brilliantly and the bounce of the ball went our way in the first half," said Rotorua coach and former Bay of Plenty Steamers player Ngarimu Simpkins. "Napier is a bloody good side, they're well-coached and they've got good strategy and systems."
"It was kind of scary being up 22-nil at halftime ... I knew they would come back at us ... It was a real dog-fight," he said. "It showed the respect for the Moascar Cup."
"It was pretty tough alright," said Napier captain Will Robinson, who bounced-back quickly from the disappointment of defeat to present the trophy to opposing captain and fellow hooker and try scorer Dayna Bidois.
"It wasn't a very good first half but the second half was a lot better."
Bidois, open-side flanker Jordan Hutchings and fullback John Horua all scored tries for Rotorua in the first half, with first five-eighths Xavier Windsor-Mitchell kicking two conversions and two penalties, the second being the visitors' only points after halftime.
Robinson scored his team's first try with Kaleb Pirie, at lock, and Lochie Mead, at blindside flanker both coming on as super-subs to score the other two tries which, with first five Carlos Kemp's penalty and two conversions, set-up a tough last few minutes.
The match ended with Napier, having battled back from some staunch defence in which Rotorua went within a knock-on in goal of scoring again, inching back upfield into the challenger's half, only to lose possession and be left watching the ball kicked out by Rotorua to prompt the final whistle.
It was just Napier's second defence since beating Hastings Boys' High School in a challenge a month ago.
Rotorua has been consistently one of New Zealand's top rugby schools over the last 25 years, with national schools championship final wins in 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2015.
But its last successful Moascar Cup challenge was against Napier in that 2003 final in Christchurch. The cup headed back to Hawke's Bay again on the Hastings BHS bus the following July.
Saturday's defeat was Napier's first loss in four games in this year's Super 8 Central North Island schools championship, and Rotorua's third win. Defending Super 8 champions and near-perennial winners Hamilton BHS are unbeaten.
But national schools champions and 2019 Super 8 runners-up Hastings suffered their fourth straight defeat in the competition this year when beaten 35-13 in Hastings by New Plymouth BHS, who now also have a 3-1 record.