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Glory denied: Napier Boys’ High School’s national rugby final heartbreak

The Napier Boys’ High School’s 1st XV won their semifinal, but the final was 30 seconds too long as they went down 17-15. Photo / Paul Taylor

The Napier Boys ‘High School 1st XV’s dreams of only a second-ever national schools championship were shattered as they were beaten 17-15 by Waikato nemesis Hamilton Boys’ High School in the Top Four final today at Massey University, near Palmerston North.

Hamilton, gunning for a record-equalling fifth title in the 40 years since the championship was first staged in 1982, took the lead for the first and only time just 30 seconds before fulltime.

But the winning side had it over Napier in most respects – two-thirds of territory, two-thirds of possession and a whopping close to 12 of the 70 minutes between the Napier 22 and goal line – five times as much as Napier had at the other end.

But Napier put in a big defensive effort, particularly some try-saving tackles from five-eighths Cory Berkett and CJ Miene, without which Hamilton could have sealed the game quite some time earlier.

Napier scored first with a try to blindside flanker George Manson, converted by Berkett, and conceded points for the first time when Hamilton front-row forward Tom McCarthy scored in the 28th minute, at a time Napier were down to 14 with captain Max Ratcliffe on the sideline after being yellow-carded.

Hamilton fullback Payton Spencer, son of former All Black Carlos Spencer, was unable to convert, and Ratcliffe’s return became important to the Blues’ response, a try to fullback Joshua Augustine four minutes from the end of the first 35-minute half.

A Berkett penalty gave Napier a 15-5 buffer 17 minutes into the second half, but it was narrowed to three points when Hamilton center and captain Aki Tuivailala scored with 12 minutes to go and Spencer added the conversion.

The heartbreaker was Hamilton right wing Caelys Putoko’s try with 69 and a half minutes on the clock, not only winning the title but also retaining the Moascar Cup, the Ranfurly Shield of schools rugby.

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