A tactical masterstroke and nerves of steel enabled Scots College to edge St Patrick's College Silverstream 24-21 in a heated Wellington secondary schools rugby final in Porirua - and secure back-to-back titles for the first time in their history.
Scots College second-five Oryaan Kalolo turned in a man of the match performance, despite playing much of the past few seasons at No 10.
According to Scots coach Willie Leota, the decision to move Kalolo to the midfield was taken at the start of the season to maximise his dangerous running game.
"He was our starting 10 a couple of years ago and has really grown as a leader and key player. Last year again he was our first-five when we won the final, but this year he played a bit more at 12 to give him more space to be dynamic and his experience showed throughout the game," Leota said.
Tries to prop Jonty Bird and centre Ietitaia Campbell saw Scots race out to an early 14-nil lead, before St Pat's talismanic centre and co-captain Riley Higgins answered with two penalties. Higgins was heavily involved again from an attacking scrum soon after, beating a couple of defenders and streaking down the right-hand touchline, before offloading to his supporting fullback. Tensions boiled over when Riley's pass was ruled forward, with two players shown yellow cards for the ensuing scuffle, and Scots College penalised for retaliation.
St Pat's number eight Peter Laakai showed great footwork to burst through a wall of defenders following a quick tap, to send his team into the halftime trailing 13-14. They scored again shortly after the break, this time through fullback Kobe-Joe Vulu from a magical Higgins offload, before an unconverted try in the corner from winger Sione Halalilo saw Scots regain a one-point advantage.
A Silverstream penalty goal saw them sneak back ahead, before Scots produced the play of the game off a counter-attack from a kick - Kalolo carving up the St Pat's defence from 50m out, before connecting with right winger Ayden Hammond who raced over to make it 24-21 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Silverstream threw everything at Scots late, but the defending champions hung tough on defence and eventually won a penalty at the breakdown and while the Scots students stormed the field prematurely, it wasn't to be in vein, as Kalolo's penalty attempt was booted over the dead ball line and Scots were crowned champions for a fourth time.
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Leota admits there were some nervous moments late in the match.
"We wanted to go into the wind because we were normally a first-half team, but just before half-time we felt momentum swung due to making too many errors in our half, so then it became a ding-dong battle.
"I'm just relieved the boys stuck in there and brought it home in the end," Leota said.
"They always say winning back-to-back is the hardest to achieve, but also from a player development perspective it's been great as well. It's big for the school as we don't have the large player numbers like the bigger schools such as St Pat's Town or Silverstream or some of the other schools in Wellington have, so going back-to-back is huge."