The Ponsonby Premiers came up short against Marist on Saturday afternoon in their Alan McEvoy Memorial Shield match, going down by 32-31.
Ponsonby led 31-29 in the dying moments, but an injury time penalty goal by Marist denied the blue and blacks a victory that was crucial in their continued quest for Gallaher Shield semi-final glory. To remain in semi-final contention, the pressure now goes on Ponsonby to win both the remaining round-robin matches.
Ponsonby outscored Marist by five tries to four, but it was the boot of Marist’s Jack Saena that was to be the difference, succeeding with five from six attempts at goal.
It was Ponsonby that were first on the scoreboard in what was bizarre circumstances. In the opening seconds of the match William Talataina-Mu attempted a neat little chip kick which was intended to bounce in behind the advancing Marist defenders. The ball rebounded off one of the Marist forwards into the arms of Presley Tufuga, and with great athleticism he raced down the right hand touch. He then cut back in field, offloading to the supporting Pryor Collier who scored beneath the posts. Talataina-Mu added the extra two, and Ponsonby had a 7-0 lead in the first minute.
The second try of the match was a gem. Ponsonby had a scrum feed just inside the Marist 22 metre mark, the forwards then displaying some classic ‘pick and go’ moves. Patience paid off, and once Talataina-Mu was in possession it was a foregone conclusion that the blue and blacks would score, and a deft pop pass to Pat Tausie saw the second five-eighth cross. The conversion took Ponsonby out to a handy 14-0 lead after 16 minutes.
Alas, Marist struck straight back. The ball lay unprotected in a Ponsonby ruck, which the winger Vaha Fili sauntered through, and after a clean pick up he sped 40 metres to the line, leaving several Ponsonby defenders in his wake. Jack Saena goaled the conversion.
Then it was Ponsonby’s turn to strike straight away. The restart fell cleanly for Marist, but their clearing kick failed to find touch. Instead it fell into the arms of Presley Tufuga, who directed a big pass infield to Freedom Vaha’akolo, and with support from Morrison Siliko play went into the Marist 22. Pat Tausie was on hand to gather the final pass and cross for his second try.
With a 19-7 advantage, Ponsonby were showing signs that they were well in control. Marist however had other ideas. After a prolonged period on attack Marist scored again, with Vaha Fili crossing for his second, which was converted by Jack Saena.
Three minutes later Marist again broke the Ponsonby defensive line, and in a case of deja-vu, Fili scored and Saena converted. Marist now had the lead at 21-19.
A Talataina-Mu penalty goal attempt just before the break would have been advantageous for Ponsonby, but the kick drifted away, and Marist took their lead of 21-19 to the halftime break.
The halftime message to the Ponsonby side was effective, and the blue and blacks turned into the breeze and facing the sun with renewed vigour.
In just the 2nd minute of the spell, some great work by Freedom Vaha’akolo and Leo Ngahe, plus an outstanding run by Alex Matapo, allowed Anthony Diack to charge over under the posts. Talataina-Mu converted, and Ponsonby were again in front at 26-21.
In the 50th minute of the match an outstanding break by Pryor Collier took play deep into Marist’s territory, and with the defence stretched a Ponsonby try was inevitable. Talataina-Mu drilled a clever kick across field, the ball bouncing kindly for Freedom Vaha’akolo to gather and touch down in the corner. The conversion sailed away, and Ponsonby had what appeared to be a commanding 31-21 lead.
However within minutes Marist added a penalty goal from the boot of Saena, and a try to David Afamasaga, bringing them to within striking distance of Ponsonby at 31-29.
In the last 19 minutes of the match Marist rallied to overtake Ponsonby, and all the 50/50 calls were going their way. Accordingly Marist had their tails up. On a couple of occasions Ponsonby looked good to score, but were called back when final passes were deemed forward or when lineout throws were ruled not straight.
With a couple of minutes remaining Ponsonby appeared to have the game sown up.
With a minute remaining in the game a tremendous burst toward the Marist line by Leo Ngahe, who then offloaded to Danny Tusitala, only to see him bustled him out at the corner flag. Marist were then awarded a lineout five metres from their own line. What followed was heartbreak for Ponsonby.
A free kick and a series of penalties awarded in favour of the homeside saw play shift from one end of the fieldto the other, and when Marist were inside the Ponsonby 22 the inevitable penalty came, which Jack Saena was never going to miss.
After gathering two valuable bonus points, Ponsonby retain their third spot on the competition table on 15 points, five behind the 1st and 2nd placed sides, and one point ahead of Grammar-Tec, who are in 4th place. Ponsonby will now look ahead to the sixth and penultimate match in the round when they host Suburbs, who sit in second place on the table on 20 points. Suburbs scored five converted tries in last Saturday’s battle with Waitemata, finishing with a 35-32 win.
Tries: Pat Tausie 2, Pryor Collier, Anthony Diack and Freedom Vaha’akolo
Conversions: Williams Talataina-Mu 3