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'I could sense it': How Aaron Mauger knew Moana Pasifika's historic win was coming

By Tom Vinicombe
Aaron Mauger. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Moana Pasifika’s historic first-ever win may have come sooner than some expected, but coach Aaron Mauger could tell something special was brewing against the Hurricanes on Friday night.

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With Covid disrupting their season to date, the Pacific Islands franchise had managed just two matches prior to this weekend, suffering a plucky but ultimately sizeable 33-12 defeat to the Crusaders in Round 3 before being thrashed 59-12 by the Chiefs last weekend. Up against the Hurricanes, the hope of the wider rugby population was simply that Moana Pasifika could at least remain competitive with the Hurricanes for the bulk of their encounter at Mt Smart – but they went one better.

With the scores locked up 19-all after 80 minutes, Moana Pasifika’s Danny Toala scored a spectacular individual try in extra time to hand his side an exceptional win, built on dogged defence and a never-say-die attitude.

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While Moana Pasifika were forced to work with just 25 per cent possession and 34 per cent territory in the opening half – similarly low statistics to the previous losses to the Chiefs and Crusaders, coach Mauger was confident his men had the composure needed to eke out a win in the second spell.

“I think when we started this journey we knew we were going to grow every week,” Mauger said after the match. “So I knew that with the intensity level it was just gonna be a matter of time before we get there. And it was the freshest we’ve looked at halftime, even after absorbing all that pressure.

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“I could sense it, I felt it in myself. I thought that the Hurricanes had thrown a lot at us and we’d absorbed and we’d given them more opportunities through discipline and through giving the ball back and we actually started to put them under pressure.

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“They were under pressure on attack; we haven’t had that the last couple of weeks. The first game, the Crusaders just kept coming, kept executing. Same last week with the Chiefs but [against the Hurricanes] we were able to absorb that pressure and then put it back on.

“That was the difference and we were still fresh at halftime and the message was, ‘This is the opportunity where teams start respecting us’. I could see a little sparkle in the eyes around that challenge. When you talk about the stats, it’s hard to measure the spirit and the heart. That’s intangible, that stuff, but it’s the most important stuff, and there was just so much of that. There was bucketloads of spirit and heart so yeah, extremely proud.”

Mauger, who represented Canterbury, the Crusaders, the All Blacks and Leicester during his playing career, and Leicester and the Highlanders as a coach, wasn’t afraid to admit that the win over the Hurricanes was one of the most proud moments of his career  to date.

“I love this team. I love the boys, the staff. Everything that we are about, I just really enjoy being a part of,” he said. “Obviously with my family roots, it means a lot. My family are all on this journey as well. Probably [a journey] like no other.

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“I’ve played for some pretty special teams through my career and coached some pretty special teams but this goes deeper. This goes way back to our origins and where we whakapapa back to and we bring all that with us into this space and that means a lot. I’ve never been so well supported in a team before from the outside. That means a lot, to be able to represent that and be able to put out there.”

Despite the historic result, Moana Pasifika won’t be celebrating too hard – they have to square up again on Tuesday evening when they’ll face off with the Blues in what will be an enticing Auckland derby.

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