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But that was all Nelson College needed to edge Otago Boys' High School 28-26 in the South Island secondary school final at Littlebourne on Saturday.
The victory means the visitors nab a spot in the National Top Four finals in Palmerston North this week.
Otago Boys' coach Regan Turoa said his side "did everything we could" but was not able to find a way through Nelson's tenacious defence in the final 10 minutes of the match.
"We did our best to claw it back but it was not enough," he said.
Otago Boys' had the better of the first half. The home team had all the ball in the opening 10 minutes but it took some brilliance from left-winger Michael Manson to open the scoring.
He gathered in a fumble and scampered 60m to score.
Tevita Asi missed a tough conversion from out wide. It did not seem critical at the time but his opposite Niko Barton nailed two from a very similar spot later in the game and it proved decisive.
Barton was the star. He scored two tries and drilled all four conversions.
He also put his side in front at the break. He slipped through a hole after his side had got some traction down the right-hand side of the field.
He converted his try to give Nelson a 14-12 lead.
Otago Boys' regained the lead when fullback Max Brown angled his way to the corner.
But tries to powerful No 8 Taya Brown and reserve hooker Hunter Griffith gave Nelson a 28-19 lead.
Tighthead prop Tevita Pole bowled over to cut the gap to two points with 10 minutes remaining.
Otago Boys' battered away at the line but Nelson's inspirational captain Anton Segner came up with some crucial turnovers and tackled himself to a pulp.
"The Top Four was always the goal but I think the pride and the passion you see when these boys put on the hoops jersey is far and away above everything else.
" The loss has gutted them but, look, they did themselves proud," Turoa said.
"You have to give credit to Nelson - their defence was outstanding around the rucks.
"We tried to break through but they just had the edge in that area until the end of the game."
In the South Island co-education schools final, St Andrew's College ran out easy winners over Dunstan High School in Christchurch. St Andrew's won 66-21.