Hastings Boys' High School first XV rugby side's co-captain Jordan Thompson-Dunn believes this season's team is just as good as the 2017 national title-winning side he played in.
"We can keep going from here. We're as good as the 2017 side," Thompson-Dunn said after HBHS pipped Hurricanes champions and last year's National Top Four runners-up Napier Boys' High School 24-21 in their Super 8 round two fixture in Napier today.
Second five-eighth Thompson-Dunn, 18, had every right to be impressed by his team's ability to claw their way back during injury time after conceding the lead during the final minute of regulation time in the clash which was televised live on Sky Sport.
"I told the boys it wasn't over and to keep their heads up."
Thompson-Dunn was playing his 50th match for the side and converted the match-winning try scored by tighthead prop Jeremiah Tuiatua who transferred to HBHS this year from St Pat's College in Wellington.
NBHS opened the scoring with a try to second five-eighth Jayden Stok in the sixth minute which was converted from wide out by fullback Ethyn Martin. HBHS replied with a penalty to first five-eighth and player-of-the-match Latrell Ah Kiong in the 10th minute.
Winger Eldius Oli put the visitors ahead with his 23rd minute try after a superb break from No 8 Cooper Flanders. Ah Kiong slotted the conversion.
Quick hands from the hosts two minutes later saw hooker Iafeta Ma'a score. Martin again converted from out wide and Napier led 14-10.
Ah Kiong glided through the NBHS defence to score with a minute remaining in the first half. His conversion gave HBHS a 17-14 halftime lead.
Both teams were guilty of conceding soft turnovers in the second half before Stok scored his second try in the 34th minute which Martin converted. Superior composure by the visitors during injury time proved the difference.
Ah Kiong was classy in all aspects of play. Lethal on attack, solid on defence, three from three with his attempts at goal and two from two with his aerial tussles.
Oli made the most of his opportunities and lock Emil Crichton and Flanders were prominent in the pack for the Hastings outfit which is unbeaten in the Super 8.
Napier's scrum functioned well. Lock Tom Lourie was again a workaholic. Stok and Martin were enterprising in the Napier backline although Martin should have kicked the hosts out of trouble before conceding the turnover which led to the Flanders break before Oli's try.
HBHS manager and former Magpies halfback Jason Bird praised his lads ability to hang in there and fight back during the final minute.
"It's not easy coming here. Napier are a fine school with a big rugby tradition."
NBHS head coach and former Magpies mentor Brendon Ratcliffe was confident his troops could bounce back from the loss but he said it was still too early to say if these two teams would repeat last year's effort and meet in the Hurricanes final.
"Everything has gone up a level this year," Ratcliffe said.
At the same time I'm proud of our performance with a side which played with five Year 11 boys in the starting XV and without our co-captain," he added referring to lock-loosie Frank Lochore who was unavailable with a knee injury.
Hastings Boys' High School 24 (Eldius Oli, Latrell Ah Kiong, Jeremiah Tuiatua tries; Ah Kiong 2, Jordan Thompson-Dunn cons; Ah Kiong pen), Napier Boys' High School 21 (Jayden Stok 2, Iafeta Ma'a tries; Ethyn Martin 3 cons). HT: 17-14.