In his weekly wrap, Bruce Holloway looks at all the big talking points across the Auckland schoolboy rugby competition.
Everybody loves a good rugby underdog story, especially when the longshot's recipe for success turns out to be every bit as unlikely as their eventual triumph.
When Otara's Tangaroa College beat Auckland Grammar 19-16 in first XV 1A rugby competition last weekend, it turned heads up and down the country. Tangaroa College reported over 80,000 views on its facebook page by Sunday night, often from people who would struggle to find the school on a map, but drawn by a compelling "Cinderella" tale.
Meanwhile on Twitter, those with stars in their eyes were suggesting this improbable win should become known as "The Matariki Miracle".
To add context, heavyweights Grammar are the most successful team in the history of the 1A competition, having won or shared the title a record 66 times since 1896. They have also produced more All Blacks than any other school.
Tangaroa, by contrast, is a small co-educational decile one school with no imports, no out-of-zone players, no international students, no repeaters, no new-to-school recruits, no scholarships and no budget to speak of.
"What would a Tangaroa scholarship even look like?" mused coach Saua Leaupepetele.
Tangaroa have never won the competition. They'd conceded 149 points in three previous losses, including a 44-0 drubbing by Kelston a week earlier. As with those outings, they still could not muster a full rugby squad of 22 on matchday - though did at least get 20, their best for some time.
In a week of disruptions (Covid and flu) Tangaroa also had 10 players at school camp. They eventually cobbled together 14 bodies for their final training run.
This was a team more conditioned to losing than winning. And if Tangaroa have ever previously beaten Grammar, nobody down Otara's Haumia Way could recall it.
"These are boys who never got the golden ticket," Leaupepetele said of his squad. "They rely on a lot of 'we moments' rather than 'me moments'. We just try to address life and it is a week-to-week grind."
But, to quote the school's own motto ("Waiho I te toka tu moana") on this occasion Tangaroa remained "steadfast like a rock in the ocean".
Tangaroa eked out a 12-10 halftime lead, but playing into the wind were pinned back in their own 22 for most of the second half, and Grammar converted two penalties to lead 16-12.
Leaupepetele was steeling himself for disappointment once more. But then, in the very last play of the match Tangaroa finally broke out, kept the ball in hand and tighthead prop Iopu Falefata eventually muscled his way over the Grammar line for a converted try.
"It was as if we had won the grand final," Leaupepetele said of the post-match celebrations. "It was joyous."
You could also imagine the smiles on the players' faces at the final whistle being mirrored at small unfashionable schools everywhere.
Leaupepetele, who is in his fifth year as first XV coach, was never confident of the win until it was over.
"I just congratulated the boys on trusting the process in a very difficult week. It was great to finally repay the loyalty of our community."
Players of the day for Tangaroa were two lads presented with caps for having made 15 first XV starts, first-five-come-halfback Mikaele Ta'avao and fullback Sefuluai Vaimauga.
Can Tangaroa back up this win with another, arguably tougher, match against Mt Albert Grammar on Saturday?
"That's the goal. What separates good teams from the rest is consistency and that is always an issue for us, but hopefully we can feed off this win."
Auckland Grammar were approached for comment but declined, as has been their policy throughout what has become an increasingly difficult season for them. Tangaroa, by contrast, have been prepared to field media inquiries even after the most wretched of losses.
"Dealing with losses and setbacks is all part of the life experience," Leaupepetele said.
There was no underdog fairy tale when Liston faced defending champs Kelston, going down 99-0, while Sacred Heart trounced Aorere College 78-0, King's conquered Mt Albert Grammar 23-15 and leaders St Peter's beat Dilworth 53-8.
By contrast, De la Salle only just edged out St Kentigerns 14-13 in a real thriller, but will have their work cut out to get a result against leaders St Peter's this weekend in what doubles as a Geoff Moon Cup match.
Saturday draw (home team first, all 2.30pm): Aorere College v St Kentigern, Kings College v Kelston, Dilworth v Sacred Heart, Mt Albert Grammar v Tangaroa, St Peter's v De La Salle, Auckland Grammar v Liston College.
Points: St Peter's 28, Sacred Heart 25, Kelston 23, Mt Albert Grammar 18, De La Salle 18, Kings College 17, St Kentigern 14, Dilworth 11, Auckland Grammar 10, Tangaroa 8, Liston 1, Aorere 0.