While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Superb defence and a willing attitude to not back down except at the very start and at the very end resulted in the New Zealand Universities side beating Australia 17-8 to win the Student Rugby League Cup final at Langlands Park in Brisbane on Saturday afternoon.
The win allowed the New Zealanders to claim its second successive Student World Cup following its win over England in England in 1999, which was also coached by the current NZU coach Trevor McLeod.
The win was the icing on the cake after the buildup to the final got off to a shaky start when the left centre Mike Nathan fainted while getting strapped back at the team residential base at Griffith University?s Nathan Campus, causing him to generously opt out of the final and give his position up to Sam Jacobson.
The travel to Langlands Park also strongly tested the patience of the NZU side after the bus driver got lost in trying to find the ground that resulted in a limited build-up to its most important game of the tournament.
The effect was seen early on when NZU conceded an early unconverted try to right wing Kevin Stephenson in the second minute of play after being forced to defend its second successive set of six tackles.
However with some excellent covering defence by Tala Paleaasina, Tim Cahill and Scott Hurrell and Jacobson out wide in the backs and by Adam Donaldson, James Koloamatangi, Chris Tupou and George Taunga in the forwards, NZU began to get their rhythm going to literally send the Australians to the sideline from some bruising defence.
New Zealand Universities got its first points of the game in the 22nd minute when its hooker Jimmy O?Brien successfully kicked a penalty over after the Australians had been found guilty of holding back their opposition clearers.
After having played at wing in the first two pool matches and being dropped for the last two, the Otago University environmental science major, Jacobson relished his new position by scoring NZU?s first try after being slipped a pass near the line from a successful winning scrum.
O?Brien failed to convert to put NZU ahead 6-4, before his side had another set back when Tupou was given a ten-minute sinbin eight minutes from halftime from an alleged high tackle that looked to be only around the chest region.
NZU however managed to hold on with a player short to lead by a slender 6-4 halftime margin.
It did not take long for NZU to put on further points when its strong running second-row George Taunga again hung out wide in the centres to go over for an unconverted try in the 44th minute.
A strong run and a bump off through two defenders saw Taunga pick up his second try in the 69th minute, which this time was nailed by O?Brien.
It was the fifth try of the tournament for the final year University of Otago physical education student and more importantly his fifth in two games after scoring a hat-trick against England in the semi-final earlier in the week.
NZU continued to put the Australians under pressure by not only showing some huge sliding defence, but by also having a better conversion rate at sets of six tackles on offence.
The World Cup was essentially in the NZU kitbag with five minutes remaining when O?Brien coolly slotted over a field goal to send the many ex patriot Kiwis in the crowd into a happy rapture.
A 95m chip kick and run to the line by Stephenson with just 43 seconds remaining resulted in Australia regaining some lost dignity right at the end with an unconverted try.
A delighted NZU coach Trevor McLeod felt there was ?no bad player? in his side as all contributed well to the overall cause.
?We showed good support under the high ball and our support play was more impressive than the first half when we took a while to get into the game,? he said.
NZU captain Andrew Auimatagi felt his side was the more dominant of the two sides on possession, while the Australian coach Steve Calder offered no excuses as his side gave away too many turnovers during the game.
?They (NZU) were more a physical side than what we have played, while I was also disappointed that our conversion rate of tackles was only around 50%, when at this level you need to be much higher.?
The Canterbury Bulls hooker O?Brien was named player of the tournament after collecting his third New Zealand player of the day award from the series at the conclusion of the final and was later named along side his fellow New Zealanders Paul Atkins (who was injured in the first quarter and never returned to the field during the final), Scott Hurrell, Mike Craig, George Taunga, Aina Masina and James Koloamatangi in a paper World XIII side.
Halftime Score: NZU 6-4.
Referee: Stephane Vincent (France).
The NZU team now flies back to New Zealand today (Sunday) and arrives back at Auckland international airport on Air New Zealand flight 132 at 3.45pm (NZ time).