As the Hastings Boys' High School's first XV rugby side celebrated their second National Top Four title in three years today manager Jason Bird's attention had already turned to a bigger mission.
"We've qualified for the world championship again and as we only lose five or six players from this team we have to give that a crack again in April," Bird said after his Hurricanes champions beat Blues champions King's College of Auckland 27-14 in the Palmerston North-hosted National Top Four final.
HBHS went to the Sanix World Youth Invitational Tournament in Fukoka last year and finished second with a 35-5 loss to Fiji's Ratu Kadavulevu School. That was always going to be a tough assignment after losing the bulk of the 2017 National Top Four-winning side and next year it shouldn't be as hard.
"I'm immensely proud of these boys. Their willingness to do anything for each other helped them achieve what they did today," Bird said.
"At the same time this final wasn't won until Mercedes [fullback Hodge] scored our final try in the 67th minute. King's are an awesome team and they kept coming back."
Bird agreed it would be awesome to have the first XV honoured by being involved in next weekend's Blossom Festival parade in Hastings as was the case in 2017. However this time he would also like to see the school's national invitational under-15 tournament champions and Super 8 title-winning second XV also involved.
"Yes I would definitely make all three teams available as this is the first year we have won all three of those competitions. It's also the second time we have had the Moascar Cup and the last time was in 2006," HBHS principal Rob Sturch said referring to the "Ranfurly Shield" of secondary schools rugby.
King's had taken the Moascar Cup off St Kentigern's College earlier in the season. St Kentigern's had earlier taken if off St Peter's College of Auckland who took it off Napier Boys' High School last year.
Sturch's grin was just as big as those sported by the players and coaches Tafai Ioasa and Karl Lowe.
"Miserable conditions like this and we still had four mini vans full of supporters. They contained 44 boys who were prepared to come out and support the team in their uniforms. We also had to leave some boys behind because we had no room," Sturch explained.
Just as he was in Friday's 11-10 semifinal win against Hamilton Boys' High School, first five-eighth Latrell Ah Kiong, was the key architect of the Hastings side's victory. He captured the official player-of-the-match award for the second time in three days.
"The boys had a lot of fun out there against a classic King's side. They are one of the toughest teams we have faced all year and it was good knowing the boys had my back," Ah Kiong said.
"This feeling we are experiencing now means everything. All the pain we have gone through, all the fitness sessions ... it was all worth it," he added.
Like his team Ah Kiong produced a complete performance. His tactical kicking was spot on, his defensive reads were accurate, his assists classy and to succeed with five of his six attempts at goal in the atrocious conditions was a huge achievement.
Winger Joeli Rauca opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a try following clever buildup work from Ah Kiong and centre Andrew Hayward. Ah Kiong converted.
An Ah Kiong penalty in the 12th minute extended the lead and the score remained 10-0 until the halftime whistle. Another Ah Kiong penalty put Hastings ahead 13-0 in the 41st minute.
A period of sustained pressure from King's saw first five-eighth Aidan Morgan score and convert in the 48th minute. Ten minutes later substitute prop Jeremiah Tuiatua made a spectacular charge and scored for Hastings. Ah Kiong again added the extras.
King's remained in the battle when centre Meihana Grindlay scored and Morgan added the extras to have his side trailing 20-14. It was appropriate Ah Kiong should have plenty of involvement in Hodge's try and also kick the final conversion of the match.
Expect HBHS to have a good chance of going back-to-back next year. However as Bird said: "That's a long way off. The world title is enough to focus on now and a lot of work will go into that during the next couple of months."
Hastings Boys' High School 27 (Joeli Rauca, Jeremiah Tuiatua, Merces Hodge tries; Latrell Ah Kiong 3 cons, 2 pens), King's College 14 (Aidan Morgan, Meihana Grindlay tries; Morgan 2 cons). HT: 10-0.
Several members of the 2017 title-winning HBHS team were in the Hawke's Bay under-19 side which walloped Southland 44-0 at the national under-19 tournament in Taupo today.
Hawke's Bay will meet North Harbour in their semifinal of the Michael Jones Trophy section on Wednesday. Against Southland Hawke's Bay led 17-0 at halftime.
Openside flanker Liam Udy-Johns, who scored two tries, prop Patrick Teddy and hooker Damarus Hokianga were prominent in the dominant Bay forward pack.
Fullback Ben Kelt used his pace to create plenty of havoc out wide. Hokianga, Teddy, No Luke Russell, substitute props Troy McIvor and Zac Southwick and substitute outside back also scored for the Bay and halfback Sam Walton-Sexton and substitute inside back Arana Murphy kicked conversions.