South edge North at the buzzer

South winning image

It was an outstanding game, and while lacking the intensity of the local derbies of the Super Rugby Aotearoa series, it offered skill, speed and excitement.

 

As a celebration of a remarkable season in New Zealand, it could not have been bettered and all of it played in an empty SKY Stadium.

 

The rare sight of players taking outside breaks, unrelenting support and space provided courtesy of the policing of 10-metre requirements at lineouts especially lent opportunities for both sides to show their skills and they didn't let the chance go by.

 

All the try-scoring action was memorable.

That the South took a 17-14 lead to the break. That was the result of quick thinking by prop Nepo Laulala at a goal-line ruck when the ball emerged as there was the slightest of spaces in front of him. He grabbed the ball and put it in that space to score.

 

Fullback Jordie Barrett also made the most of a sweet pass from hooker Codie Taylor to get the ball down millimetres in from the corner flag.

 

But the North had their own moments. The first only two minutes after the start when wing Caleb Clarke made a powerful break which set up a chance which was capped by centre Rieko Ioane who powered his way to a try.

 

The sweetest moment of all however was the second try scored by the North, who worked the short side with Ioane linking with fullback Damian McKenzie who found hooker Asafo Aumua on the sideline. Aumua then passed back to Ioane, who then fed halfback TJ Perenara, who then had McKenzie up in support to run in the try.

It was also apparent a concentrated effort was being made by the refereeing team to maintain the 10-metre line at lineouts especially and it was such a ruling that denied Beauden Barrett a try off a South Island mis-throw on their own line.

 

The North also had a try ruled out when a planned move at first receiver off a lineout was ruled to have been a truck-and-trailer infringement with Taylor missing out on the try.

 

More sparkling handling led to the North reclaiming the lead as McKenzie's initial thrust allowed No 8 Hoskins Sotutu to race ahead before finding McKenzie still in support inside him. McKenzie then had replacement halfback Aaron Smith inside him and he scored.

 

McKenzie looked to set his backline alight but as Clarke attempted to keep the ball in play, it fell to his marker Jordan and he raced 40m to score.

 

Moments later Jordan was involved again, this time with second five-eighths Jack Goodhue and Jordie Barrett before the ball was moved to centre field where replacement prop Tyrell Lomax ran a superb line to take the South out to a 31-21 lead.

 

The transfer of McKenzie to first five-eighths saw the momentum lift again in the North backline and he featured twice in a move that produced Ioane's second try. Firstly, Clarke was fed into a huge gap, and then Ioane was able to run from depth to take the ball, and a gap to pull the margin back to three.

 

Just to prove they could pour it on up front, the North reclaimed the lead with some power play, much of it from prop Ofa Tuungafasi who had been recalled to action. But as the ball was worked it was replacement hooker Ash Dixon who won the seal of approval to score.

 

The South worked themselves into a position to seal a win, but they ran into the worst person possible to get past, Ardie Savea who was over the ball in a flash and winning a crucial penalty on the goal-line.

 

But this was the type of game where nothing was assured and when replacement first five-eighth Josh Ioane lobbed a cross-kick it was Jordan who plucked the ball from the air to secure the win.

 

Scorers:  North Island 35 (Rieko Ioane 2, Damian McKenzie, Aaron Smith, Ash Dixon tries; McKenzie 5 con) South Island 38 (Nepo Laulala, Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan 2, Tyrell Lomax tries; Barrett 5 con, pen). HT: 14-17

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