In the final round of Auckland Premier club rugby on Saturday the Ponsonby Premiers came agonisingly close to upsetting the competition leaders, College Rifles.
After leading by 18-0 at halftime, Ponsonby held a slender 21-19 advantage in the final quarter, but a penalty goal by College Rifles 13 minutes from time saw the blue and blacks trail by 22-21, and despite their best efforts they were unable to seize a late victory.
Despite losing to College Rifles, Ponsonby have secured a spot in next Saturday’s Gallaher Shield semi-finals against Suburbs, but will travel away to Shadbolt Park for the fixture.
Ponsonby had first use of a brisk southerly breeze, and used it wisely, dominating most facets of play in the half.
After missing an early long range penalty goal attempt, William Talataina-Mu succeeded with his second attempt from closer range.
Ponsonby scored the first try of the match, awarded to Freedom Vaha’akolo, after some excellent work by Pryor Collier and Danny Tusitala. With a handy 8-0 lead, Ponsonby had a firm grasp on the match, and were forcing their hosts into fundamental errors.
Midway through the first spell Ponsonby were awarded their third penalty of the match, a kick being drilled to the corner. Following a successful lineout win, a promising Ponsonby move was repelled by Rifles, and they attempted a clearing kick. The ball fell into the arms of Joe Beckett on the right wing, and he then raced down the touchline eluding two intending tacklers scoring in the right hand corner. The wonderful solo effort by Beckett was converted by Talataina-Mu, stretching the Ponsonby lead to 15-0.
A further penalty goal from Ponsonby extended their lead to 18-0, and given their dominance appeared to be unassailable.
Play had not gone the way of Rifles in the first spell, and it wasn’t until just short of the halftime whistle that they were awarded their first penalty of the match. Just ten metres out from the Ponsonby line the left winger Joseva Ravouvou looked to take a quick tap and apply pressure to the retreating defence. Alas the ball was knocked on during the quick tap, and that summed up the half for the home side.
Turning into the wind and with a solid 18-0 lead, Ponsonby did not start well, and were called upon to defend their line in the opening minutes. Unfortunately they were taking wrong options, and errors came into their game.
Five minutes into the half the College Rifles first five eighth Rocky Khan made a clean break, paving the way for Loketi Manu to race to the line. The try was converted by Otu Mausia.
Minutes later Joseva Ravouvou skipped down the right wing for a try in the left hand corner. The try remained unconverted, and Rifles now trailed by 18-12.
Talataina-Mu goaled another penalty for Ponsonby, his third of the match, extending the Ponsonby advantage to 21-12.
The restart by Rifles was not claimed by Ponsonby, players letting the ball bounce. The opposing lock Josh Brajkovic gratefully claimed the ball and went close to scoring. An attacking five metre scrum resulted and from this Hayden Edwards crashed over, scoring a very soft try. The Mausia conversion brought Rifles to 21-19 down.
The late penalty by Otu Mausia snatched the lead away from Ponsonby, and despite several attempts, they were unable to penetrate the solid College Rifles defence.
Tries: Freedom Vaha’akolo and Joseph Beckett
Conversion: William Talataina-Mu
Penalties: William Talataina-Mu 3
College Rifles: 22
Tries: Loketi Manu, Joseva Ravouvou and Hayden Edwards
Conversion: Otu Mausia
Penalties: Otu Mausia 2