When 19-year-old midfielder Ben Mavor kicked a penalty to lead Union to an 18-15 win over Kurow in the North Otago president’s grade final on Saturday, the clock read 113 minutes.
Yes, 113 minutes.
And that might have made it the longest game in the history of New Zealand rugby.
The game at Ngapara, the tiny rural village 25km inland from Oamaru, was played under golden point rules, an arrangement fairly new to rugby.
Union and Kurow were level 5-5 after “normal” time – 35 minutes each way in the second tier of North Otago rugby – and still level after two 10-minute halves of extra time.
So, to golden point it went. First team to score wins the Burns Shield.
And on they played, the men from both sides close to a walk by the time Mavor kicked the winning goal in the 23rd minute of golden-point time.
(Side note: Mavor’s father, Stefan, refereed the game, and it was eight days after Ben’s little brother, Liam, scored the winning points for Waitaki Boys’ High School in the Blood Match; North Otago rugby is a tight-knit community.)
Union coach Peter Stackhouse, who revived the rural club’s senior team in 2018 after a 30-year absence, said the players were aware golden point rules would have to be used if the teams could not be separated.
“We were fairly blase about it. We never thought it would happen.”
President’s grade rugby is, to put it kindly, not generally the home of the fittest athletes on the planet. It is for the old stagers who still like to run around on a Saturday, and the young fellows whose size is not ideal for top-level club rugby.
The players were out on their feet but willing to fight to the end, Stackhouse said.
“We’re lucky we can have rolling subs, so for the one or two that were really buggered, we could change them around.
“But the bulk of the team stayed on for the whole game. They were exhausted – really exhausted – but they had the fire in the belly to finish it off.”
As the winning kick sailed over, Union’s reserves and supporters charged on to the ground, hoisted the coach on to their shoulders and started chanting, “Stacky, Stacky, Stacky”.
The atmosphere was electric, and Ngapara was clogged with vehicles everywhere, Stackhouse said.
Union was beaten in extra time- plain old 90 minutes – by Valley last year.
Statistics are sketchy but it seems highly probable 113 minutes is a New Zealand record.
New Zealand Rugby Almanack editor Clive Akers was not aware of a longer game.
A week before the North Otago epic, the Horowhenua-Kapiti senior final between Paraparaumu and College Old Boys went for 105 minutes.
North Otago Rugby chief executive Colin Jackson said the game was an incredible spectacle.
“Anyone that was out at Ngapara on Saturday [knows] president’s grade rugby is alive and well,” Jackson said.
“As that game went on … it just got more intense.
“Union as a club have done a fantastic job resurrecting a senior side and it was so gratifying to see so many young players out on the park for both Kurow and Union.”
Additional reporting Kayla Hodge