Tupapa Panthers made a late comeback to retain the Rarotonga Club 15s title in a thrilling showdown against Avatiu Nikao Eels on Saturday.
The final played at Raemaru Park in Arorangi had spectators from both sides on the edge of their seats as the Panthers and Eels fought tooth and nail for the title.
With the scores locked at 16-all at fulltime, the teams went into extra time (2 x 10 minutes) to decide the winner. The announcement made before the start of the extra time play called it “the golden point extra time and the first team to score wins”.
The Panthers scored a three-pointer in the opening spell of the extra time play and the players and fans went into celebration mode. But protest from the Eels bench saw referee Billy Tuaivi continue play.
The defending champions scored another three-pointer from Viiga Ruepena to win the final 22-16.
According to the Rugby World Cup 2019 rule: “If the score is tied after 80 minutes of play during knockout games, the two teams will then play an added 20 minutes of extra time (10 minutes each way).
“If the two teams still can't be separated after extra time, a further 10 minutes of sudden-death extra time will be played – where the first team to score any points will be declared the winner.
“If no points are scored in the sudden-death period, the match will be decided through a kicking competition.”
Cook Islands Rugby Union’s Ben Koteka said: “This was one of the most exciting finals ever and give credit to both teams for the quality of this intense final that kept the audience on the edge of their seats throughout.”
Both teams were locked at 8-all at the break.
“The Eels will count themselves unlucky not to win this match as they took the game to the Panthers, the Eels leading for the majority of this match,” Koteka said.
Although the Eels struggled to win quality set piece scrum and lineout ball, they made up in other areas, by running strongly in the pick and go and being aggressive in the contact area.
With the Eels direct and physical approach, the normally lethal Panthers attack lacked fluency.
The Eels will rue the fact that in the 75th minute of the match and with a commanding 16-11 lead, they allowed the Panthers to score.
From out of nothing, the Panthers were able to score an incredible solo try to their right winger Peniasi “Flash” Dakuwaqa who scorched 50 metres to beat at least five defenders with pace, power and balance, on his way to the try line. The try levelled the score at 16-all putting the match into extra time play where the Panthers first five eighth Viiga Ruepena successfully kicked two penalty goals to win the title for the third year in a row.
For the Eels, their workaholic forwards Genesis Piri, Adyn Kapi, Josh Caffery, Li Ponini and first five eighth Kelepi Komaisavou and midfielder Leki Hauvela stood out.
And for the Panthers, their best players were forwards Davey Mato, Thomas Toa and first five eighth Viiga Ruepena and fullback Junior Buresova.
The Vodafone best and fairest player(s) were awarded to Genesis Piri (Eels) and Davey Mato (Panthers).
The under-19 grade title went to Country who defeated Town 32-17.
Ben Koteka said: “This was an exciting match with some excellent tries being scored especially the Town 80 metre counter-attack team effort that resulted in their opening try to midfielder Nathan Nabou.”
The top performers for Town were forwards Temaruata Tearitoa and Tupui Tuaivi and utility backs Waqa Delaimoala, Joaquin Pantaleon, Nathan Nabou and Jireh Vunibaka.
Forwards Rau Nga, Xavier Rauraa, Sianna Short, Armani Ama and backs Tom Daniel and Ben Sokia stood out for the Country side.
The halftime score was 10-all.
Country also won the U16 title beating Town 22-7.
On behalf of Cook Islands Rugby Union, Koteka said: “During this unprecedented time of uncertainty CIRU would like to say thank you to all our clubs – players, coaches and management, volunteers, referees, medics, sponsors, spectators, supporters and to the Arorangi Rugby Club as wonderful finals hosts. Thank you all for allowing us to come together as a happy, healthy and safe community, meitaki ma’ata and God bless always.”
Tupapa Panthers: 22 (Tries: Peniasi Dakuwaqa (2), Pen: Viiga Ruepena (4) Avatiu Eels: 16 (Tries: Lai Rogorogoivalu and Kelepi Komaisavou. Pen: Kelepi Komaisavou (2). U19 Country: 32 (Tries: Taio Taio, Xavier Rauraa, Thomas Daniel & Ben Tearii. Conv: Armani Ama(3) Pen: Armani Ama (2) U19 Town 17 (Tries: Nathan Nabou & Okirua Eliu. Conv: Jireh Vunibaka (2). Pen: Jireh Vunibaka. U16 Country: 22 (Tries: Mii Paia, Beau Daniel, Jessie Toa & Zac Tuaati. Conv: Zac Tuaati) U16 Town 7 (Try: Terry Akava. Conv: Nooti Peraua)