Eden or Grammar Tec will be this year's Gallaher Shield champions after the two teams made next Saturday's Auckland men's premier club rugby final by upsetting the form book yesterday.
Eden, ranked fourth on the table, were perhaps the biggest underdogs. They were up against near perennial champions Ponsonby at Western Springs Stadium but took the field knowing they had already beaten their rivals this season and during the 80 minutes that followed they showed an undeniable desire to give themselves a chance to win the Gallaher Shield for the first time in the club's 99-year history.
It was a masterclass in finals rugby; an unbreakable spirit on defence combined with near ferocity at the breakdown and some very clever directing from halfback Nicolas Costa and first-five Ignacio Costa, the captain.
They also had a loosehead prop Franck Friconnet who was perfectly suited to the occasion; an old-school front-rower who carried superbly on the heavy field and defended with similar courage. He was one of the best players on the pitch.
As Eden coach David Bateman said afterwards, Ponsonby, the Sir Fred Allen Trophy holders whose only loss this year came against Eden in round two, didn't help themselves. They appeared almost overawed – either by the occasion or Eden's approach - and didn't play with any freedom until the game was up.
For Bateman, last off the pitch and cheered by the team's big travelling support, the achievement was significant but not altogether unexpected.
"It's our first Gallaher shield final," he said. "We've been trying for five or six years, this group, to try to make this day happen, so I'm pretty happy with the boys to beat Ponsonby for the second time this season."
Asked about the side's attitude on defence and pressure they exerted at the breakdown, he replied: "It's just what we do. It's hard to train old dogs and we've got heaps of old dogs in our team. We just run with what we do well. We haven't changed for anyone all year and Ponsonby played into our hands today. They chose to go up through the middle. We did well so we'll celebrate tonight.
"Frank is the best scrummager in the comp and we don't know why he hasn't played Mitre 10 Cup," he said when asked about his loosehead prop. "He's the best prop in club rugby and has been for three or four years, but if they don't want to choose him, we'll take him. He played well today."
With Ponsonby being heavily penalized at the breakdown and unable to get a foothold on the game, Eden were in control early via two penalties by halfback Costa, but a Ponsonby team which included two Blues players in the form of loose forward Blake Gibson and fullback Jordan Trainor, wouldn't have been too concerned given the fire power they possessed.
However, the warnings would have sounded when Eden No8 Conor Lawson was over from a lineout drive near the end of the first half, and, indeed, they had just received an official warning from the referee for the mounting penalty count.
Ponsonby launched a rare attack at the end of the half which ended with a forward pass – one of many forced errors. They just didn't have a chance to settling into their rhythm and on the rare occasions they did, Eden had a rare knack for coming up with the ball with a seemingly impossible steal.
A Trainor penalty from in front narrowed the gap to 13-3 but the game was as good as over once loose forward James Rutherford scored from a pushover scrum, a completely dominant set piece earned from a penalty which vindicated their decision to turn down a shot at goal.
Ponsonby had nothing more to lose at that point and finally started to play with width. They cashed in when replacement wing Kisione Ahki scored in the left corner from a cutout pass. Wiseguy Faiane's dropped goal conversion attempt went well wide.
Halfback Costa, one of Eden's best, took great delight in kicking the ball well over the sideline to end the game after a turnover and the celebrations could begin in earnest.
"It's Eden Park so it's a home game for us," Bateman said. "We haven't been there ever for a final and we plan to go there, just two minutes from our club, win the Gallaher Shield and walk back to our club and have a drink afterwards."
Grammar Tec beat College Rifles away 24-20 in the other semifinal after leading 10-3 at halftime. Many observers expected Rifles to be too strong despite losing 42-10 to Grammar Tec the week earlier.
They had been bolstered by the return of Blues playmaker Zarn Sullivan, a rare talent who shone during his debut Super Rugby season, but Grammar Tec, who had finished third on the table to Rifles' second, weren't to be denied.
Eden 20 (Conor Lawson, James Rutherford tries; Nicolas Costa 2 pens, 2 cons)
Ponsonby 8 (Kisione Ahki try; Jordan Trainor pen)