Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Moana Pasifika come ‘oh so close’ in all-Auckland derby against the Blues

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Moana Pasifika came close to pulling off a huge upset against the Blues. Photo: Photosport (via Herald)
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Neueli Mauafu | Reporter

Two yellow cards in the last ten minutes in defence proved costly for Moana, with captain Solomone Funaki and lock Michael Curry both sent off for illegal infringements.

With the hooter sounding in the background and repeat scrums near Moana’s try line, a depleted Moana pack succumbed to the pressure to concede a penalty try to the Blues.

For Moana coach Aaron Mauger and captain Solomone Funaki, it’s back to the drawing board as they prepare for next week’s clash against the Hurricanes in Wellington.

“I think the fight and the heart we showed to come here and play like that shows a lot of It went down to the wire at Eden Park as the Blues left it to the last minute to secure a late victory over Moana Pasifika through a penalty try in the 82nd minute.

The two teams put on an entertaining 80-minute performance at Eden Park on Saturday, setting the tone for what could be an annual rivalry between the two Auckland based clubs.

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Blues. Blues v Moana Pasifika, Round 11 of the Super Rugby Pacific competition at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday 6 May 2023. Mandatory credit: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

Although they might have lost, Moana Pasifika proved throughout the match that they were the better team. Blues head coach Leon McDonald was quick to congratulate Moana’s efforts and resilience after the match.

“We’ve come up against a passionate and proud Moana Pasifika team who I thought were outstanding tonight,” McDonald says.

“They should be proud of their performance because they put us under a lot of pressure. They hung on throughout the game and even when we were in the lead they still hung on.”

Blues captain Dalton Papali’i who lives with Moana Pasifika players Ezekiel Lindermuth and Samuel Slade said that the physicality of the match was up there at “test match” levels.

“Everyone that studies Moana Pasifika knows that physicality is the cornerstone of their team,” Papali’i says.

“They’re physical and big boys, and we knew it was coming and I think it got the best of us at times, which shows when we just got over the line at the end.”

Moana’s inspirational leader Christian Leali’ifano opened the points for the match, with a successful three-pointer in front of the posts. A quick three-try response from the Blues gave them a good lead, however two missed conversions still put Moana within reach.

A huge driving maul at the half-time hooter put Moana prop Abraham Pole over the line to close the Blues lead to two at the break.

Moana Pasifika clash against the Blues. Photo: Super Rugby Pacific Highlights

Moana Pasifika seemed to be in control for the majority of the match putting pressure on last year’s Super Rugby Pacific finalists on multiple occasions. Blues held a narrow 17-15 lead at halftime, after a physical first 40 minutes.

Moana’s momentum must’ve been the ‘team talk’ for the Blues at halftime, as immediate changes were made to bring on some experienced players. The Blues seemed to up the ante in the second half, but it was Moana Pasifika continuing to mount pressure on the Blues line in the opening minutes.

That pressure was rewarded when Leali’ifano sliced through the Blues mid-field of Roger Tuivasa Sheck and Bryce Heem to score under the posts to take the lead 22-17.

The next few minutes saw a tough battle upfront from both teams, with each team refusing to show cracks in their defence. Simple mistakes from Moana lead to Blues lock Sam Darry going over for another try, after some great pick and go work from his forwards. Zarn Sullivan converts putting the Blues back in the lead, 24-22.

Moana Pasifika Man Of the Match D’angelo Leuila. Photo: Moana Pasifika

Moana took back the lead after a successful penalty attempt by Dee Leuila before replacement Fine Inisi scored in the corner to extend Moana’s lead by six points, 30-24.

With time running out on the clock, it looked like Moana Pasifika could bank their maiden win of the season but ill discipline from them saw the Blues march close to the try line and lay siege belief and trust in the team,” Mauger says.

“Really proud of how we fronted up at the start, and how we came back and put the Blues under pressure, you can’t ask for more really. Disappointing about the result but we can’t fault the effort.

Funaki admitted that even though they are the “little brother” in their relationship with their Auckland neighbours, he hopes to see the rivalry between the two clubs carrying on in the future.

“In our Moana team, there’s a lot of boys that are good mates with the Blues. And when we came in we were just going to joke about it as a battle of the 09,” Funaki says.

“Everyone was pumped about it, and we just like to challenge and have a good fight against them”.

Moana Pasifika will take on the Hurricanes next weekend who were defeated by Fiji Drua in Fiji, while the Blues will have a repeat of last year’s final against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

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