Last-gasp win for NZ Universities

New Zealand Universities first five-eighth Tyler Campbell goes past Kansai Universities centre...
New Zealand Universities first five-eighth Tyler Campbell goes past Kansai Universities centre Tuidraki Viliame at the University of Otago Oval on Saturday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Otago's Connor McLeod was the toast of the New Zealand Universities team that snatched a last-minute 32-29 victory over Kansai Universities from Japan, at the University of Otago Oval on Saturday.

With the score locked up at 29-29, and time up on the clock, the match appeared to be heading for a draw. But the men in black swept up field in the final seconds and Kansai was penalised for infringing at a breakdown 35m out.

There was no hesitation in handing the ball to replacement halfback McLeod.

McLeod duly kicked the three-pointer with pinpoint accuracy, despite having to contend with a cross-field breeze.

With possession and territory evenly shared between the two sides, Kansai had the measure of its opponent in the forward exchanges. The versatility of Mataena Ieremia proved to be a dominating force. He switched from hooker in the first half to No8 in the second half.

Ieremia exploited the inside back defensive lapses of New Zealand Universities with his rampaging runs. But it was his strength off the back at the set piece and imposing presence at the breakdown that led to him scoring a try to bring his side back into the game, after New Zealand Universities had leapt out to a 22-10 lead early in the second half.

Then left winger Haruto Kida scored his second try, and put Kansai well and truly back in the match. Takuro Matsunaga's conversion handed it a 24-22 lead, with 15 minutes left.

Kansai Universities, through its dominant forward pack, then continued to dictate terms at scrum-time and profit from turnover ball at the breakdown.

It was a solid performance from the Kiwi side, captained by Massey University loose forward Kirk Tafuga.

Tafuga proved a powerhouse at No8, while outside backs Caleb Makene, Te Rangitira Waitokia and Otago's Taylor Haugh scored three impressive tries. Haugh's was arguably the try of the match, after Waikato's Codi Rogers burst from deep inside his 22m and, breaking tackle, after tackle, fell agonisingly close to scoring.

From the breakdown the ball went wide to Haugh, who eluded two defenders to score.

Kansai Universities coach Ken Onishi was philosophical about his side's loss.

"That's the rugby. It was a good game and they [his players] would have learnt a lot. The forwards played really well. But we'll have to do some more work on our lineout," he said.

New Zealand Universities coach Brendon Timmins said he always expected a vastly improved Kansai side to that which played University last Tuesday.

"They are a well-structured, well-coached side. So we knew we were going to have to play well," Timmins said.

"The challenge for us was that we didn't have a warm-up game. We were trying to find ourselves from the first minute. And it took us 80 minutes for us to get there. And ... [some] luck as well."

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