Above: Ayesha Leti-l'iga with Monica Tagoai in support take on the Auckland Storm today at Jerry Collins Stadium. The Pride lost 30-31, but the two bonus points earned could prove crucial for their playoff chances. Photo by Dave Lintott Photography
A pair of grandstand finishes at Jerry Collins Stadium, with both matches going down to the wire.
The Wellington Pride came back twice against the Auckland Storm, but their second rally wasn’t enough in their 30-31 Women’s NPC competition loss.
The Wellington Samoans came from behind to score two converted tries and pip the Wellington Centurions 28-27 in the second encounter.
Up on the number two field, the Wellington U18 Girls pulled away from the Poverty Bay U18 girls to win 57-5, while the Wellington Samoans U18s defended the Hurricanes Shield in beating the Centurions U18s 36-17.
Elsewhere, the Wellington Catholic Colleges beat Wanganui U18 by default and the Wellington U13 defeated Horowhenua-Kapiti 43-17. In two U16 competition pre-tournament competition contests, the Wellington U16As accounted for Manawatu 59-10 and the Wellington U16 Development team beat Horowhenua-Kapiti 48-15.
The Auckland Storm rallied from a 23-12 deficit to edge the Wellington Pride 31-30 in a fourth round Farah Palmer Cup thriller.
Wellington appeared to have the game won when ahead by 11 midway through the second-half. Auckland was reduced to 14 players and Pride centre Monica Tagoai poached an intercept and dashed into the clear.
Referee Matthew McEwan ordered Tagoai back and it was Auckland who scored through lock Charlene Gubb to close the gap to 23-19.
Rattled by the Tagoai denial, Wellington's discipline wavered and Auckland seized control. Second-five Lina Leiataua powered over to propel the visitors ahead 24-23 and then Strom flanker Joanna Fanene charged down a panic clearance by first five-eighth Kauna Lopa to stretch the margin to a decisive eight points with 10 minutes left.
Earlier Auckland warned they could score points quickly. Fullback Tiana Ngawati scored two tries as the host's defence failed front in the opening 10 minutes.
Gradually the Pride fought back and halfback Acacia Te Iwimate chipped over a penalty to make it 12-3 after 15 minutes.
Wellington's first try was scored from an advantage. Attacking hard inside the Auckland 22, Lopa boldly cross-kicked for right wing Vaine Masters who spectacularly claimed the ball and touched down.
A Te Iwimate penalty and a try to prop Angel Uila, following a break 60-metre break by Tagoai, had Wellington buzzing into an 18-12 halftime lead.
The Pride extended their advantage shortly after the break when wing Ayesha Leti-l'iga outflanked the defence following a powerful surge by second-five Jane Bryce.
In a contest of bipolar momentum swings, Auckland's 19 unanswered points between the 60th and 70th minutes was the decisive difference, though Leti-l'iga set up an anxious finish when she scored a 65-metre solo with three minutes to go.
Auckland’s lineout was a complete shambles and underarm throwing was a last resort to win possession.
Uila, hooker Alicia Print, lock Sanita Leave and No.8 and captain Jackie Fereti were the pick of the Pride forwards. Leti-l'iga is a seriously bright prospect in the backs and made some thundering tackles as well as dangerous runs.
For Auckland Nawati was consistently elusive. No.8 Charmaine McMenamin cleaned up a lot of mess and with some pivotal covering defence and powerful carries. Halfback Emma Jensen was an assured presence. Flyhalf Demant made several piercing breaks, opening up tired defence later in the game. Captain and centre Mele Hufanga was big and dangerous but often lazy and found wanting on defence.
An intercept try in the first half and two late sideline conversions and an audacious pass that put right wing Losi Filipo in the clear to the score the match-winning try – it was all in a day’s work for Fa’atonu Fili.
The Marist St Pat’s and former Wellington Lions veteran arrived at the ground with a smile on his face and left a couple of hours later having put one on all of his teammates and supporters after his Man of the Match effort to win the Festival Trophy for his side for winning the Wellington Samoans, Maori and Centurions tri-series.
Trailing 14-27 with barely five minutes left, Fili featured in the lead-up to fullback PJ Iosefo’s try and then converted from the grandstand touch to close the gap to 21-27.
With time running down, time stood still for a brief moment as Fili stopped in the middle of traffic in broken play and popped a fantastic pass to a flying Losi Filipo who streaked 50 metres to score in the far corner. Fili stepped up to kick the coversion to win the game.
It wasn’t over though. The Centurions won a penalty 40 metres out and 5 metres inside the grandstand touchline and fullback Andrew Wells called for the kicking tee. His penalty fell short and the Samoans won the game – only after another anxious few moments with their premature celebrations almost giving the Centurions chasers another opportunity to score again.
Earlier, it was one-way traffic for the Centurions, scoring three tries and racing to a 17-0 lead inside 25 minutes. Openisde flanker Sam Coventry opened the scoring in the 14th minute after a long build-up, before second five-eighth Paddy Hughes made a strong burst to score off a 22nd minute attacking scrum.
Centre Lester Maulolo pounced on a dropped ball and ran all the way to the corner flag, before blindside flanker Marcus Ale collected an overthrown lineout from the next play and poured over to score.
Fili injected himself into the game in the 32nd minute, intercepting a short pass in midfield and blasting through to score and convert to close the gap to 7-17. The Samoans won a tighthead scrum and replacement centre Paulo Aukuso scored in the 34th minute to close the gap further to 14-17.
The Centurions regrouped and fast hands up the far side shortside saw fullback Wells take-off up into the 22. He linked up with Coventry who found left wing Mike Buckley unmarked on the wing to score their fourth try to make it 22-14 at halftime.
The Centurions made a flying start after the break, tighthead prop Ha’amea Ahio crossing after a concerted build-up to extend the lead to 27-21.
The game waned for a time, before coming alive at the end and the Samoans came away with victory in a breathtaking finish.
Meanwhile, the The Hawkes Bay Saracens have won the Hurricanes Region Development Competition after beating Manawatu Dev 21-19 today.
The Wellington Maori had the bye. The Wellington Development team wil now be picked fromthe Centurions, Maori and Samoans sides to take on Tasman, Auckland and Canterbury in a series of matches over the next few weeks to close out the 2017 season.