Reuben Mama wraps up the game of the round in Auckland First XV rugby, and provides all the results from around the country from this weekend's fixtures.
The 209th meeting between the Auckland Grammar School and King's College 1st XV rugby sides may have been the most enthralling, with Auckland Grammar slashing a 15-point deficit to sneak home 34-32 in a match that had it all.
The result also ends defending champions King's unbeaten run in the 1A competition and sees them slip to second spot, two points behind Auckland Grammar who have risen to top spot on 20 competition points.
King's College backs coach Kevin Putt says the match was an incredible advertisement for secondary school rugby in New Zealand.
"Prior to the game there had been a system ranking the greatest traditionals in the world at a schoolboy level and King's vs Grammar had been posted as number one. More importantly the game actually delivered on that. It was a fantastically high-skilled game and very exciting," Putt explained.
Auckland Grammar assistant coach Dave Askew shared Putt's sentiment.
"The occasion typifies everything that's great about the rivalry and the history that's involved. Every year the students seem to understand the rivalry better, when a lot of people would suggest young boys arguably don't connect with yesteryear and don't understand the people that have gone before them, but I don't think anybody watching that game could suggest that either school has forgotten what makes this game great. That was another great example of a great game between Grammar and King's."
The scene was set pre-game with students from both schools each performing a passionate haka which ignited an electric atmosphere around the King's College number one field.
King's swiftly put out any emotive fire that had been stoked within the Auckland Grammar players pre-kick-off with second-five Francis Manuleleua intercepting a cut-out pass and racing 70 metres untouched to score with just two minutes on the clock, as first-five Max Webb converted to give King's the early 7-0 lead.
Grammar responded with a penalty through sharpshooter fullback Riley Williams, until King's capitalised on an attacking raid inside Auckland Grammar's half with the ball being spun wide and elusive fullback Chicago Doyle dotting down in the left hand corner to give his side a 12-3 advantage inside 10 minutes.
AGS rolled up their sleeves and kept the ball tight, then were rewarded with their first try of the game, as openside flanker Sam Hainsworth-Fa'afo crashed over to get them back in the contest. King's responded a few minutes later, showing great continuity, before lock Matthew Monaghan barged through to score as King's went 19-10 up. King's backs then continued to wreak havoc on Auckland Grammar's defensive line and a patient build up saw the fall flung through multiple pairs of hands out to Doyle who tiptoed down the left hand touchline to score his second try of the match and give King's a healthy 24-10 lead.
In danger of letting the game get away from them, Grammar continued to trust their forwards to do the hard yards and scored a vital try on halftime, as prop Faka'ongo Leaaemanu was too strong close to the line. King's would go into the sheds up 24-17.
King's started the second half much like the first and stunned AGS with Webb putting a lovely weighted chip over the top of Grammar's defensive line, before Doyle latched onto the ball and offloaded to blindside flanker Che Clark who dived over in the corner less than a minute into the second spell. Manuleleua took over the kicking duties and added a penalty shortly after which saw King's take a 32-17 lead with 25 minutes left on the clock. Auckland Grammar responded almost immediately after, as the forwards once again muscled up and replacement Mercy Manukia burrowed over from close range. Williams nailed another conversion to close the gap to just eight points.
Ill-discipline was proving to be King's Achilles' heel as they were guilty of giving away multiple penalties that allowed Auckland Grammar to enter their red zone. Grammar built concerted pressure by way of their impressive forward pack and it was halfback Fionn McKenna who caught King's defensive line unawares with a sneaky show and go five metres out and with the conversion from first-five Cullen Gray, AGS were now behind by just a point 32-31 with less than 10 minutes to play.
Penalties again gave Grammar a free ride into King's half and the forward pack further asserted their dominance rolling into the 22 until the pressure on King's showed and an offside penalty was given on their own try-line and a yellow card followed with two minutes left on the clock.
Step up Cullen Gray. The Grammar first-five was entrusted with the kick at goal that would likely boot his side to a famous victory. While upon first view it looked like a relatively straight forward shot at goal just over 15 metres in from the left-hand touchline, when you couple that with the proud tradition of the two schools after 126 years of rivalry and the opportunity to etch your name into school folklore, and with time almost up on the clock, it all of a sudden doesn't become as straight forward as one might think. Nevertheless, Gray showed tremendous poise and struck the ball perfectly with his right boot as it sailed between the posts and just like that, Grammar were in the lead for the first time in the contest 34-32.
Askew's lauded Gray's cool head under pressure.
"If you play rugby long enough you're going to be involved in games where things don't go your way and when they do go your way you've got to enjoy those moments. For Cullen to kick under those conditions it's not easy. Cullen's a young fella who's come straight out of last year's Under-15 side, so he did an excellent job.
"It was really pleasing for Cullen and the boys to hang in there as they did, in what was a sign of real team culture at the end."
King's were handed one last chance with time up on the clock, as AGS failed to retain the kick-off, but desperation on defence saw Grammar win one of the most important breakdown penalties in the school's history, as the ball was booted into touch and they hung on for a famous victory and their 133rd amongst this great rivalry.
Askew reflected on the tightness of the tussle.
"When we got to halftime we were a bit disappointed with the way we defended as we felt we prepared well for what King's bring and unfortunately we went out there and didn't stick to some of the things we'd identified as being critical to being successful on defence. In the second half we were far better at getting our alignment and working in the system and that created a bit of opportunity for us.
"Of course you've still got to create your own element of pressure and we sort of found an area of the game they struggled to adapt to, and we were good enough and mature enough as a playing body to keep going to that area and thankfully it provided us with an opportunity to get the win in the end."
Putt acknowledges a lack of possession made their job incredibly difficult.
"The statistics at halftime showed it was something like 20 percent possession to us and 80 percent to the opposition, and we were still up by seven points. It's hard to maintain that. If you haven't got the ball, then you tend to have penalties go against you and you tend to get fatigued a little bit quicker by making all those tackles and so that was the tough part of it.
"We've just got to be more clinical around controlling and looking after the ball, because I think everyone could see that our style of play and our ability to break lines and finish were absolutely outstanding and we're very proud of the boys, but unfortunately in these traditional games the result is the key point and that's the devastating part of it. We've played so well and come up a bit short, but fair play to the opposition."
Askew feels both teams should be proud of how they represented their respective schools.
"Unfortunately in sport there can only be one winner, but you have to look at everyone who took the field and for them to manage themselves in that environment in the way they did with the expectation and support of both school communities, I take my hat off to those young men because it's not easy."
Remarkably, there's just three points separating first and fifth place on the ladder, with St Kentigern College third, St Peter's College fourth and Sacred Heart College in fifth.
Askew says that type of logjam's exactly what the competition needs.
"When you're coaching a team you want them to be in an arm wrestle for as long as they can because that's where learning occurs. It's pretty hard to gather the learning when things are coming easy, so when you're in an arm wrestle you're able to highlight those lessons and help the kids be better at what they do. We're really happy with what we've done but there's still a long way to go. We're looking forward to playing at home next week, because we've been on the road for three weeks in a row and that's never easy. We'll play a Mount Albert Grammar School team that want nothing more than to knock us off and we understand that rivalry with them as well.
"We'll enjoy our latest win and be satisfied with what we've done, while keeping the hunger otherwise we'll trip up next week and with the nature of the competition you can't afford to have a week off or get ahead of yourself."
Putt's confident his side will continue to soldier on, but is encouraged by how close the table is.
"We've just got to put our heads down. This will be one of the closest competitions in 1A history. We've been right near the top for the last three years, but it's been nothing like this year. Any of the top five on their day can knock the other one over. Everyone's lost at least one game already and it's just a really close and hard-fought competition which is fantastic."
Dilworth 8 v St Kentigern 66
Kelston Boys 40 v Tangaroa 0
Sacred Heart 25 v De La Salle 8
Liston 17 v Mt Albert Grammar 34
St Peter's 47 v Aorere 30
King's College 32 v Auckland Grammar 34
NORTH HARBOUR 1A
Massey High 3 v Westlake Boys 22
Manurewa High 50 v Mahurangi College 5
Orewa College 3 v Takapuna 28
Kaipara College 3 v Rangitoto 36
Whangarei Boys 10 v Rosmini 43
New Plymouth Boys 23 v Palmerston North Boys 10
Rotorua Boys 18 v Hamilton Boys 36
Napier Boys 22 v Tauranga Boys 10 (NBHS defend Moascar Cup)
Gisborne Boys 17 v Hastings 5
CENTRAL NORTH ISLAND (CNI)
Wesley College 24 v St Paul's Collegiate 40
Rathkeale College 22 v St John's Hastings 20
St John's Hamilton 14 v St Peter's Cambridge 29
Lindisfarne College 12 v Fielding High 32
WELLINGTON 1ST XV PREMIERSHIP
Wellington College 19 v St Patrick's Town 39
Wairarapa College 31 v Aotea College 19
St Bernard's College 7 v St Patrick's Silverstream 39
Rongotai College 12 v Scots College 55
Mana College 3 v Tawa College 12
Christchurch Boys 56 v Marlborough Boys 10
Timaru Boys 55 v Mid Canterbury Combined 12
St Bede's 44 v Roncalli Aoraki Combined 22
Christ's College 48 v Waimea combined 18
Lincoln combined 5 v St Andrew's College 43
Rangiora High 17 v St Thomas 20
Nelson College v Shirley Boys to be played on Tuesday
OTAGO PREMIER SCHOOLS
Dunstan High 27 v St Kevin's 7
King's High 26 v Southland Boys 7
Otago Boys 1st XV 81 v Otago Boys 2nd XV 0
Mt Aspiring College 33 v South Otago High 5
Wakatipu High 7 v John McGlashan 37
Waitaki Boys 31 v Otago Combined Co-Ed 24