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Narrow loss to Napier

The Mark Jefferson-coached Gisborne Boys’ High School first 15 has shown courage and resilience since the 2019 season began: never more so than at the Rectory on Saturday.

Napier BHS — the first foe, since 1910 — beat the home team 22-19 in Game 2 of the Super 8.

“I can’t fault the effort from our boys — once again, it was superb,” said Jefferson.

“We just couldn’t exit our own half of the field after the break and discipline was also a factor, in that we had two guys yellow-carded — and it was during those periods that Napier scored their points against us.”

Following an unsuccessful attempt at a penalty goal 10 minutes into the game, the home team put together an incredible 19 phases at Napier’s end of the ground before blindside flanker Ofa Tauatevalu held two defenders off in the tackle, 3m off the sideline. Left-wing TK Reihana took the flip pass from Tauatevalu and was strong enough, v two NBHS cover defenders, to score an amazing try in the right corner. There was no conversion: Boys’ High led 5-0.

The visitors scored next, a try well-taken by halfback Angus Kilmister in the 27th minute. From a scrum set 10m off the left touch 5m out from GBHS’ goal line, their No.8 Gilgal Leutele-Malasia broke to the right, popped the pass to Kilmister, who cut back against the tide to score 2m to the left of the posts. With fullback Ethyn Martin’s conversion, Napier led 7-5.

Centre Jack Sheridan scored Napier’s second try four minutes later, following an 11-phase preamble, driven to score by his forwards half-a-metre to the left of a goal-line ruck: Martin’s attempt at conversion was unsuccessful.

As half-time beckoned, Gisborne’s pack made their presence known: hooker Amanaki Tonga found openside flanker Amos Roddick at No.6 in a lineout on the Napier 22m line, and three phases later, tighthead prop Sione Mafelio scored alongside the right goal-post. First-five Ricardo Patricio converted Mafelio’s try for 12-all at the break.

GBHS’ first try in the second half, in the 41st minute, was another beauty. Again a good Gisborne lineout, set 15m into Napier territory, right side of the ground, saw Roddick win the ball and the home team retain possession for 11 phases before halfback Nic Proffit cut left from a ruck 8m to the right of the posts, 5m out from the goal line. Proffit’s pop-pass to fullback Braedyn Grant on his inside to score was one of the plays of the game. Patricio converted for 19-12.

Napier responded in the 54th minute: a tap-penalty 8m out from Gisborne’s goal line taken by reserve halfback Hayden Saunders, one phase later saw Malasia pounce and score 15m to the right of the posts. The try was unconverted, for 19-17.

They struck again shortly after, GBHS turning the ball over 5m on their own side of halfway and Napier’s Martin leading a surge deep into Gisborne’s 22. From a ruck 10m out from the goal line, Napier spun the ball through six sets of hands for left-wing Wesley Akeripa to score 5m in from the posts for 22-19 after 66 minutes of fast, competitive rugby between evenly matched teams.

Napier BHS retained the Football Challenge Cup, but of far greater importance to head coach Brendon Ratcliffe was the quality of the rugby played.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for Gisborne Boys’ High School,” said Ratcliffe.

“I know they’ve been unlucky to have come close in one or two other games this season. We’ve all had that. The key — having learned from those experiences — is to forget the results, trust in your systems.”

Seasoned followers of first 15 rugby here don’t truck with excuses, but the fact is that GBHS has played excellent rugby for long periods and could well have won both S8 games played to date: they went down 25-32 in the S8 opener here v Palmerston North BHS.

Former stand-in captain blindside flanker Khian Westrupp tweaked his left knee on Saturday but finished the game. He is just one of a number of GBHS players who stood out, as to a man they played with great commitment.

Roddick was Gisborne Boys’ MVP and Westrupp wasn’t far behind; Patricio, in for Anaru Paenga-Morgan, showed promise on debut and Tonga was also great value. His work in the tight was of its usual high standard, matched by powerful running with the ball. Young halfback Proffit also played well.

While Rotorua BHS here at the Rectory this Saturday will present a significant challenge, it is doubtless a challenge this Gisborne Boys’ first 15 can rise to.

CLOSE ENCOUNTER: Halfback Nic Proffit takes the ball upfield in the Gisborne Boys’ High first 15’s 22-19 loss to Napier Boys’ High School on Saturday. Picture by Paul Rickard