Unblemished Napier Boys' High School and Hastings Boys' High are through to the semifinals of the national under-15 invitational rugby tournament in Hawke's Bay tomorrow.
But the Sky Blues had to dig really deep to book a repeat final against defending champions Hamilton Boys' High School at 12.30pm after Auckland Grammar took them down to the wire in the quarterfinals at their school grounds today.
"Someone had to go," said NBHS team manager John Stapley after the sides were locked 10-all in extra time but the hosts progressed by virtue of having scored 2-1 tries on countback. "They fought like tigers and they were good sports but I'd rather them than us."
The visitors would have felt the pain after surging into a 7-5 lead at halftime following a converted try before NBHS second five-eighths Katikati Broughton dived over for an unconverted try.
Left winger Korie Paio scored the second unconverted try before Auckland Grammar nailed a penalty kick between the sticks to keep their hopes alive in the last act of the second spell. The score remained intact after five minutes of extra time each way for the Viliame Malaitai and Farrell Chrystal co-coached NBHS to clear their lungs in a huddle after the final whistle.
Tournament director Brendon Ratcliffe, who also coaches the NBHS First XV, said the Sky Blues defence was something to behold, not just today but this week.
"They are playing as a true team and have come together," Ratcliffe said of the side who son Max, an openside flanker, captains. The storm shutters NBHS had put up against Tauranga Boys' High was some of the best he had seen at the age-group level.
The former Hawke's Bay Magpies mentor said it would be a humdinger semifinal against Hamilton Boys' High after the former had lost the crown three minutes into injury time last year.
"We've had some outstanding rugby across the board so far at a very special tournament," said the senior Ratcliffe.
Hastings Boys' High, who are the provincial age-group champions, will be facing Palmerston North Boys' High at the same time on the adjacent No 2 ground at NBHS in the other semifinal.
They beat St Bede's College, of Christchurch, 27-6 after leading 12-6 at the break at the NBHS ground.
Lock Josh Leach claimed two tries while halfback Rylee Ward and No 8 Ned Saifiti went over for one each. First five-eighth Koby Deacon racked up two conversions a penalty kick.
Hastings Boys — who have Matthew Robertson at the helm as coach with assistant coach/manager Quentin Crawford and backline mentor Vaine Maui alongside him — had stifled St Bede's to two penalty kicks only.
"We had no idea what they were like, only that they must have been pretty handy to have qualified for the top eight," said Crawford of St Bede's before naming the strongest Troyden Bird-captained outfit for the quarterfinal.
He had no hesitation in lauding dominant red-and-blue forward pack who executed their set pieces that gave the imaginative backline to conduct their affairs with some zest and flair.
"We were most pleased with holding them to no tries," Crawford said as HBHS broke St Bedes' spirit. "We're very proud of our defence because St Bede's spent a lot of time on our line in the first half with the win on their backs but our boys just stuck to their processes."
Centre Bird, who switched to fullback today, received kudos for taking charge with a spate of injuries in the squad.
"When the communication was getting a little tough for us at halftime he again kept calm and cool to rally his troops to do everything we expected him to as captain."
Crawford said Hastings Boys were expecting a torrid battle up front against PNBHS who had earned their stripes and the opposition's respect in making the final four.
"It'll be pretty ferocious so no one will want to give an inch tomorrow and they are a fellow Super 8 team so we're looking forward to that as well," he said, emphasising they had played on the semifinal field a week ago against NBHS Under-15s so they would relish the rub of the green.
Both Bay teams have entertained the thought of a derby final but are not wanting to get too far ahead of themselves.