There were no more contrasting emotions than those of the two coaches after Varsity beat Te Kawau 29-27 to retain the Hankins Shield in the cliffhanger final second of injury time on Saturday.
Varsity’s Geoff Thompson repeatedly stressed his team had been playing for 80 minutes, just as they did last year in the 11-10 final win over Feilding Old Boys-Oroua.
An emotional Bryan Matenga felt his Te Kawau team had been sawn off after referee Mark Long repeatedly penalised his Real Blokes at the wave of rucks in the final seconds. When Long was booed off the field, it was a sour and irrational reaction.
Te Kawau didn’t help themselves during the nail-biting climax when they allowed the students to rip back from 27-19 down with 10 minutes to play. With time almost up and Te Kawau ahead 27-22, Varsity sub Jackson Clince put in a kick to the corner, Te Kawau’s Vili Dakunimata hit the ball into touch and that was an obvious penalty.
“It’s not the ref’s fault,” Thompson said. “We kicked the ball and they slapped it out.”
Varsity’s forwards were a match for Te Kawau’s and they drove and drove as desperate Te Kawau defenders flopped and Long pinged them. Finally Varsity flanker Marty Stevenson dived over and Scott Davidson converted.
Jubilee Cup winners Te Kawau were shattered while the vocal Varsity supporters invaded the field in front of the crowd of more than 2000. It was jubilation for the students who were missing 10 men to the Turbos and injuries while Te Kawau were down four.
Te Kawau folk claimed the game went six minutes over time but the Arena Manawatu scoreboard does not stop for time off. Time was lost when their livewire hooker, Mike Gardner, rolled his ankle when offloading for what seemed the winning try to lock Kenny Stewart 15 minutes from time. Gardner and Varsity hooker Willie Tran were the two best players in the final.
Thompson felt sorry for Matenga who had done well with Te Kawau, but that’s sport.
“Finals football is totally different to playing a Saturday game,” Thompson said. “A ref has got to see purely what’s in front of him.”
Varsity were heavily penalised late in the first half and it saw their 13-0 lead become 13-6 at halftime.
“It’s 80 minutes; that’s what we were playing for,” Thompson said. Varsity’s forwards owned the first half, big men like JJ Carberry, Brad Kilgour, Mitchell Crosswell, Tran and Stevenson, and props Chris Prentice and Damian Horgan. Rob Thompson and Dan Waldon made breaks but the backlines snuffed each other out.
Te Kawau reverted to forward driving of old and a Taylor grubber put captain Daniel FitzGerald over. When Varsity messed up a scrum and Ben Corston scored, Varsity looked goners. But they refused to kick, even turned down penalty shots until Scott Davidson slotted two gifts to haul them back.
Matenga said he could handle a loss but he never expected something like that, and now it’s part of Manawatu history.
“That was the most gut-wrenching loss I’ve had in my career,” he said. “It was a very hard one to swallow.
“It’s our season over; everything’s gone.
“The ref killed us. We got crucified off the park in the tackle-ball area and we will make a formal complaint to the union.
“I can handle losing to a better team but I thought we were the better team.”
He said he and all the players will be back because they have unfinished business.
“They’re young fellas and they will learn from this.”
Bush scored their only try to hooker Jacob Tipene to win the senior second title when they beat Old Boys-Marist 16-9 at Arena Manawatu on Saturday.
Tipene is now off to play for Wairarapa-Bush. Bush coach Andrew Rankin said his club might be able to sustain another team but he started this year on January 10 with seven players.
Hankins Shield final: Varsity 29 (Owen Karati, Marty Stevenson, tries; Scott Davidson 5 pen, 2 con) Te Kawau 27 (Daniel FitzGerald, Ben Corston, Kenny Stewart, tries; Logan Taylor 2 pen, 3 con) HT 13-6.
Val Holland Cup final: Linton Army 20, Dannevirke 14.
Senior second final: Bush 16 (Jacob Tipene try; Dylan Bennett 3 pen, con) Old Boys-Marist 9 (Campbell Paterson 2, Kurt McNamara, tries) HT 6-all.
Senior 2 Cup final: Kia Toa 28 Linton Army 14.
Premier colts final: OB-Marist 7 Feilding 3.
Colts A final: OB-Marist 1920s 42 Foxton 8.
Senior reserve final: College Old Boys 12 Feilding Old Boys-Oroua 0.