The Ponsonby Premiers edged Manukau Rovers by 21-20 on Saturday afternoon in the penultimate match of the first round of the Auckland club rugby competition.
Played at Western Springs Stadium amongst pesky showers, both sides had issues contending with the slippery ball and underfoot conditions. These conditions played a contributing factor in the game, ensuring that this encounter was not a free flowing entertaining spectacle that it had the potential to be.
Manukau Rovers traditionally play a spirited brand of rugby, and in the past couple of seasons have known exactly how to rattle the Ponsonby Premiers. In the first passage of play, just seconds from the kick off, Ponsonby found themselves on the backfoot. After two aerial exchanges of possession, Junior Cagiaceva mishandled a pass, which Manukau Rovers gratefully accepted. Play went to their centre, Stacey Ili, who cleverly eluded several Ponsonby tacklers, and ducked and dived on a 40 metre weave to the tryline. Calvary Fonoti converted, and the visitors had a 7-0 lead in just the first minute of play.
William Talataina-Mu put Ponsonby on the scoreboard with a handy penalty goal in the 9th minute of the half.
In the 16th minute of play Ponsonby were gifted the opportunity to capitalise on a handling error by the visitors. Some 20 metres away from their line Manukau Rovers turned over possession, and from the ensuing loosehead feed, Ponsonby went rightand fullback Charlie Hubert skipped away from the intending tacklers, and freed Danny Tusitala, who dotted down in the right hand corner. The Talataina-Mu conversion fell away, but Ponsonby now had the lead in the match by 8-7.
Despite missing the earlier conversion, Talataina-Mu did however succeed with a penalty goal soon after, which stretched the lead for the home side to 11-7.
What then followed was a classic piece of rugby. Ponsonby relished a sustained period on attack, and forced the visitors into some fundamental errors. In their haste, Manukau Rovers attempted a clearing kick from inside their 22 metre area. The kicker was tackled as he endeavoured to kick, and his misguided kick travelled only a few metres. On hand to gather the kick was Marco Fepuleai, who displayed some outstandingly quick reflexes, claiming the ball and charging to the line untouched. Talataina-Mu added the extra two points, and Ponsonby looked to be well in control at 18-7.
With what appeared to be a significant advantage, Ponsonby looked to increase their lead so became somewhat adventurous in their execution. The visitors were enjoying having Ponsonby kick away, what was valuable possession. In one such situation, the visitors exploited. Gathering a wayward kick, Manukau Rovers created a massive overlap, and Ponsonby were powerless to stop the openside flanker Sione To’a from racing to the corner to score. Calvary Fonoti, a 2015 Auckland ITM Cup representative, goaled the conversion from the sideline.
Ponsonby went to the break at 18-14 ahead.
The first 20 minutes of the second spell saw several changes in possession. Both sides would look good to score, but promising moves would fall down with dropped passes or possession would be needlessly kicked away.
At the third quarter mark in the match Fonoti added two penalty goals in quick succession, which saw the visitor’s take the lead in the match at 20-18.
But it was a penalty goal miss in the 66th minute which would prove costly for Manukau Rovers. Had Fonoti succeeded it would have made the potential comeback for Ponsonby much harder.
In the final ten minutes Ponsonby spent several minutes on attack, using the tried and true ‘pick and go’ method. And with eight minutes to play Manukau Rovers became frustrated with this practise, and conceded a kickable penalty. Talataina-Mu goaled the penalty, and Ponsonby held on to the slender 21-20 advantage for the remaining minutes.
Next Saturday Ponsonby will travel south to Sturges Park to take on Otahuhu who are the 8th, and bottom placed side in the competition, and are seeking their first win in 2016. Last Saturday Otahuhu did battle with the 7th placed side in the competition, Eden, losing by 59-0.
Tries: Danny Tusitala and Marco Fepuleai
Conversion: William Talataina-Mu
Penalties: William Talataina-Mu 3