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'It just hits different': Moana Pasifika star Danny Toala opens up on match-winning heroics

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Moana Pasifika have finally won their first Super Rugby Pacific match, and the new expansion franchise can young star Danny Toala for their historic victory.

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It was, after all, Toala who scored the decisive long range try in golden point extra-time to sink the Hurricanes 24-19 at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Friday.

After having held the Hurricanes out from inside their own half for much of over-time, Moana Pasifika pinched the ball and spread it wide to Toala, who hoofed it downfield in the face of some strong wind.

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That, as well as his superb chasing efforts, may have played into Toala’s as he was the first to the ball near halfway and hacked it the remaining 40 metres, outpacing Hurricanes starlet Ruben Love to dot down and clinch a landmark result for his side.

It was a whirlwind passage of play for the 22-year-old midfielder, who was at loss of words when describing his try and what the win means for him, his team and the Moana Pasifika fanbase.

“Yeah it’s pretty hard to explain. Especially in a rugby game, something that I’ve probably never felt before. Surreal. I don’t know. Playing for my family, it just hits different. It’s surreal, I’m speechless,” Toala said after the match.

“I’d seen a lot of space. My first initial thoughts was just have a go but sort of stuck to our game plan, and big ups to our drivers for driving that into us this week, making sure we play in the right zones.

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“I did think of running it but then something told me just to kick it. Kicked it and then first it didn’t bounce up nicely so I hacked it with my shin and then even the bounce before I picked it up to score wasn’t as nice as well.

“It just happened real quick. I actually thought it would have gone up to the TMO because it looks pretty dodgy. I was comfortable that I got it down so as soon as I got the ball down I just celebrated.”

There was a sense of irony about Toala’s match-winning exploits given it came against the Hurricanes, his former team that he only made four appearances for over the course of three seasons before joining Moana Pasifika this year.

Already, Toala has featured in all three of his new team’s fixtures, but he has no hard feelings towards the Hurricanes, who he said were still his second favourite team.

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“I was expecting that question. I’ve had it a few times already,” Toala laughed when asked how it felt scoring against his old teammates.

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“I don’t know. Moana’s my new home, my team, but still mad love for my brothers from the Hurricanes team. When I first got it down, heaps of joy just getting one over my ex-team, but yeah, nothing against them. Still support them – second best team.”

Despite the magnitude of their maiden upset victory, Moana Pasifika won’t have much time to celebrate given they will face the Blues in Auckland’s first-ever cross-town Super Rugby Pacific derby at Mt Smart Stadium on Tuesday.

It may be a big ask for the competition newcomers to replicate their recent feats against their highly-favoured opponents after such a short turnarounds, but Toala remains optimistic and hopeful of his side’s future following their breakthrough win.

“The boys are pretty confident, we’ve got a pretty good squad,” Toala said of what’s next for Moana Pasifika.

“We’ve got a couple of storm weeks coming up so it’s just important that we do the right things – getting around each other, supporting each other and helping each other out.

“We’re obviously going to need our whole squad as well, so expect some pretty dangerous players on Tuesday as well. That’s what I can say.”

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