High drama in draw at the Polo Grounds

MSP all but pulled off a dramatic win over Ories on 28 July, but in the end had to settle for a 9-9 draw which was enough to secure a home semi-final at Evans Bay next week (see video highlights below).

In front of a big crowd at the Polo Grounds, MSP were caned in the penalty count yet in the final minutes couldn't land three shots at goal to snatch what would have been a remarkable win.

MSP started the game well with a light breeze at their backs. Looking into the bright sunshine, Ories bungled several high kicks and MSP capitalised with two good penalties by Fa'atonu Fili to go ahead 6-0 after 10 minutes.

However, from that point they were hammered with a long string of penalties, allowing Ories to dominate the territory and mount several promising attacks. By the 25th minute, the scores were tied at 6-6. The scrums were a titanic battle, with five MSP forwards and four from Ories announced that morning in the Wellington rep training squad.

Four minutes before halftime, lock Charlie Graham was yellow carded, but MSP had the last say in the half when Fa'atonu Fili knocked over a three-pointer for a 9-6 lead.

Early in the second half MSP No 8 Tevita Ah Wong was stripped of the ball when trying to run the ball out from his line and Ories spread the ball wide. However, their big winger lost the ball in a John Gbenda-Charles tackle over the tryline and MSP escaped with a five-metre scrum. Soon after the home side landed a penalty to tie it up 9-9.

As the match wore on, MSP finally gained some continuity as the whistle-blowing eased off. Thirty minutes into the half they hammered away at the Ories line, with hooker Liu Tatiuave and player-of-the day Lua Lokotui prominent. But a feature of the match was great defence from both sides and MSP couldn't get across.

With four minutes to go, MSP won a penalty close to the Ories line. Fa'atonu Fili, who hadn't missed a shot at goal for three weeks, couldn't land the attempt from close to the southern touchline. One minute later, he had a shot from 40 minutes out in front but hit the left-hand upright. With one minute to go, his drop goal attempt just drifted wide.

In the end, the draw saw Ories finish the round-robin top qualifiers, two points ahead of MSP. Both sides have home semi-finals next week, with MSP hosting Norths at Evans Bay Park.


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