The New Zealand Secondary Schools team have won completed their build up campaign to their annual test against Australia Secondary Schools with a 29-11 win over Otago Under 19.
New Zealand Schools dominated territory and possession throughout the game and created many chances but failed to execute out wide, struggling to break the Otago defence.
Playing into the wind in the first half, they surprisingly spent almost the whole half in the Otago 22 but were unable to stamp their authority on the game by crossing the line. An early try from a well-worked back line move, finished by blindside flanker Tupou Sopoaga, saw the score go to 7-0. However Otago worked their way back into the game landing two penalties to take the score to 7-6 15 minutes in.
From here on in the Otago team were unable to make the wind count for them as New Zealand Schools forced them to defend for the next 20 minutes. They showed courage on defence, however, holding the Schools team to just a penalty and a try which came right on the half time whistle.
The second half saw New Zealand Schools use their backs more and consequently looked more dangerous. An excellent long range try to Junior Tofa Va'a saw them draw away to 24-6, before a fourth try took the score to 29-6.
Otago started to mount a comeback in the last 10 minutes and looked dangerous every time they got the ball into the hands of fullback Matt Faddes. Their efforts were rewarded with a try in the 29th minute to No. 8 Gareth Evans after a scintillating run from Faddes.
The win was far from convincing for the Schools team but can take some good positives from the hit out. Their set-piece was excellent as they dominated the scrums and were able to interrupt the Otago lineout well. The backs showed good promise, creating many chances that could have easily have turned into tries.
The halfback-first five duo of Bryn Hall and Scott Eade combined well, directing play and making good decisions. Eade looked dangerous running with the ball and delivered many passes to put players into gaps.
Tupou Sopoaga had a good game, getting around the park and running well in the open. Other forwards to stand out were lock Michael Fatialofa and No. 8 Siulogo Fotofili.
The pick of the players on show however was Nelson College player James Lowe. He started the game at centre and was moved to fullback in the second half, proving to be just as influential in both positions, running well and setting up a good try.
For Otago Under 19, Matt Faddes was the goods. After a sketchy start, he showed his skill with his elusive running and tactical kicking. He made three breaks late in the game, one of which led to a try.
In the forwards Gareth Evans was prominent, running hard and putting in some big hits and defence, while lock Blair Tweed displayed a huge work rate, making a mountain of tackles.
The Schools team will now have four days off before their showdown with Australia next Wednesday at Otago Boys High School. The match will be televised live on the Rugby Channel from 12:00.