Thomas Waldrom’s last-gasp try gave New Zealand Maori the Pacific Nations Cup with a 21-18 win over Australia A in Sydney on Sunday.
Even then Mark Gerrard had the chance to tie the scores with the last kick of the game – and give Australia A the title – but his penalty shot from 45m dropped just short.
The home side started well, and had got to a 7-0 lead with an early try from rising star Timana Tahu, but quickfire tries from Jacob Ellison and Tanerau Latimer had the Maori 14-7 in front at the break.
But Tahu struck again, and Gerrard landed two crucial penalties to put his team 18-14 ahead before Waldrom’s late surge.
Relieved New Zealand Maori coach Donny Stevenson paid tribute to his side’s character, although he said they were often their own worst enemies.
“In the end we had some experienced guys to get us through but we didn’t make it easy for ourselves, we were really scrambling at the end,” he told reporters.
“We thought if we could put some phases together the opportunities would come but we lost the ball at critical times. I was concerned at some of the decision making.”
For Australia A:
Tries: Tahu 2
Pens: Gerrard 2
For New Zealand Maori:
Tries: Ellison, Latimer, Waldrom
Cons: Bruce 3
Australia A: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Morgan Turinui, 12 Timana Tahu, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Peter Kimlin, 4 Al Campbell, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Salesi Ma’afu, 18 Van Humphries, 19 Leroy Houston, 20 Ben Lucas, 21 Sam Norton-Knight, 22 Matt Carraro.
New Zealand Maori: 15 Dwayne Sweeney, 14 Shannon Paku, 13 Jason Kawau, 12 Tamati Ellison (Co-captain), 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Callum Bruce, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (Co-captain), 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Bronson Murray/Ben May, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Jacob Ellison.
Replacements: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 Bronson Murray/Ben May, 18 Hoani MacDonald, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Tim Bateman, 22 Zar Lawrence.
Referee: James Bolabiu (Fiji)
Assessor: Bob Francis (New Zealand)
Caption: The Maoris celebrate at the Sydney Football Grounds at the end of the PNC final against Australia A. Planetrugby