Moana Pasifika stun Hurricanes in extra-time to secure first-ever win
After weeks of Covid uncertainty and season-opening drubbings, Moana Pasifika are finally on the board.
Six days after they were trounced by the Chiefs at Mt Smart Stadium, undoing their good work from their season-opener against the Crusaders a fortnight beforehand, Moana Pasifika returned home to pinch their first-ever Super Rugby Pacific win.
Their landmark 19-12 golden point victory over the Hurricanes will live in the minds and hearts of their fanbase for a long time to come, with their defensive doggedness and vastly improved all-round performance the hallmarks of their shock win.
Statistically, it was hardly a show of dominance, with the hosts pegged inside their own half for large parts of the encounter while the likes of Jordie Barrett, Peter Umaga-Jensen and rookie first-five Aidan Morgan ran rampant with ball in hand.
However, Moana Pasifika continually repelled the visitors time and time again, restricting them to just one first half try, scored by Barrett on the back of some slick backline play.
The Hurricanes almost certainly should have had more than that, though, as they only had to make 21 tackles with 77 percent of the ball in the first half, while their opponents were forced into making 100 more in the opening 40 minutes.
Nevertheless, the fact they were able to keep the score level at 7-all at half-time, courtesy of a Henry Time-Stowers try following some ruthless ball-carrying forward play, was a far better showing than last week.
This match was a far cry from the frail defence that enabled the Chiefs to run in nine tries, with staunch defence and dogged breakdown work enough to keep the Hurricanes at bay.
Add in a sprinkle of magic from fullback William Havili, whose second 50/22 in as many weeks to lay the foundations for his side’s sole first half try, and Moana Pasifika would have plenty of reason for optimism at the break.
Perhaps there was a touch of fortune about the half-time stalemate for Moana Pasifika given a potential try on debut for Morgan was rubbed out because of a forward pass by Umaga-Jensen.
In saying that, the Hurricanes had plenty of opportunities to forge ahead, especially with a lopsided penalty count that read 12-3 after 40 minutes, but they failed to do so against the devoted red-and-blue Moana Pasifika defensive wall.
The fortitude and determination of Moana Pasifika to keep things all square continued well into the second half, keeping things at level pegging almost until the hour mark, even in spite of their sever lack of ball and field position.
It was only until Umaga-Jensen broke through to allow rookie wing Josh Moorby to do what Morgan couldn’t and score on debut that the Hurricanes got the breakthrough they were after.
The relief of taking the lead against the competition’s cellar-dwellers to avoid a shock defeat was short-lived when Salesi Rayasi was sin binned for a lineout-related infringement right on his own goal line, but the Hurricanes still managed to survive.
The loss of a man would come back to bite them, though, as a spectacular offload by Tima Fainga’anuku put Aumua away for a 40-metre canter to dot down in the right-hand corner, which is where Rayasi would have been if he was still on the park.
With a renewed sense of urgency, the Hurricanes hit back almost immediately when some deft ball-playing by Morgan, combined with some outstanding line-running and offloading by lock Caleb Delany, put Alex Fidow in for another lead-taking try.
Holding a 19-12 lead heading into the match’s final 10 minutes, the chance for Moana Pasifika take the match to golden point and potentially secure a victory for the first time in their history was still very much on the cards.
Achieving such a result was clearly the motivation for the competition newcomers as the match drew to a close, as they carried with vigour, cleaned with aggression and played at tempo in a bid to stretch and break the Hurricanes defensively.
Those tactics reaped their desired rewards when, after a slew of penalties against the Hurricanes, Tongan international Solomone Funaki crashed over from close range to level the score for the third time in the match, and send the game to to golden point.
That is where the fairytale came to life.
A clutch piece of defensive work by Joe Apikotoa to steal a turnover following a sustained period of pressure turned into a brilliant counter-attacking opportunity when Danny Toala hoofed the ball downfield into open pasture.
Some outstanding chase work by the ex-Hurricane saw him win the race to the ball, and he toed it ahead from the halfway line all the way to the tryline before pouncing on the loose ball and dot down to rapturous cheers from the home fans.
A classic try to close a classic encounter which has proved that Moana Pasifika are here to play in their debut Super Rugby Pacific campaign.
Moana Pasifika 24 (Tries to Henry Time-Stowers, Levi Aumua, Solomone Funaki and Danny Toala; 2 convesions to Christian Lealiifano)
Hurricanes 19 (Tries to Jordie Barrett, Josh Moorby and Alex Fidow; conversion to Barrett, conversion to Ruben Love)
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