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Leroy Sisnett
AUCKLAND, New Zealand
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 The New Zealand Iron Blacks claimed the seventh berth in the 2009 IFAF Junior World Championship with a 12-7 win over Australia in Canberra on Saturday evening (Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time).

Two touchdown runs by dimunitive New Zealand running back Dan Tavaga – who ran for 141 yards on 12 carries – and some stout defence inside the red zone helped the Iron Blacks overcome three first-half turnovers and a 7-6 deficit at three-quarter time to earn a trip to Canton in June.Tavaga opened the scoring on the fourth play of the game when he followed right guard Behlow Matia pulling around left end, broke through some sloppy tackles by pursuing Australian defenders and then sprinted away from the secondary to complete a 59-yard touchdown play. The extra point attempt by Hiroyuki Tanaka was blocked.

New Zealand Head Coach used a script for the opening offensive drive, and said the result went according to plan.“We kinda set it up with our wing formation, then we went to trips and we thought that would set up the Aussies to bite hard on the pass,” he said.“We knew that Dan had the speed, so once he got to the outside and got those big linemen coming through, that was it.”

On New Zealand’s next possession, the Australian defence presented their offence with an excellent opportunity to score. Outback defensive tackle Jesse Williams sliced through the line and disrupted a hand off to fullback Matthew Gandy, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Jacob Townrow.A sack of Australian quarterback Mark Rusby by New Zealand inside linebacker Christian Hellesoe forced the Outback to attempt a 35-yard field goal, which was pushed wide by kicker Jean Prill.

Tavaga immediately ripped off a 33-yard run by cutting back behind a pulling Matia, but the drive ended early in the second quarter when Iron Blacks quarterback Marenata Pasa-Sioka was intercepted by Townrow inside the red zone.

The Australian drive stalled, but a booming punt by Jordan Berry backed the New Zealanders up to their own 33. Two plays later, Australian cornerback Justin Rourke jumped a short out pattern to intercept a pass by Pasa-Sioka. A facemask against the Iron Blacks on the return meant the Outback took possession at the New Zealand 20 yard line, but Australia’s best chance of the second quarter ended when a fourth down swing pass from Rusby to slot back Jereme Russell was dropped well short of the first down.

Australia started the third quarter with a good drive that used strong runs by slot back Dean Borghuis and Alexander Monea to set up 1st and 10 at the New Zealand 15-yard line. The Iron Blacks dug in, dropping slot back Chris Pappas for a loss on third down. An illegal substitution penalty forced the Outback to attempt a 42-yard field goal, but Prill’s kick was blocked by New Zealand defensive tackle Tia Ratu.On the ensuing possession, Australian captain and linebacker James McFadzean caught Tavaga in the backfield and punched the ball loose, where it was recovered by the Outback on the New Zealand 24.

The Outback capitalised on the turnover when Borghuis motioned into the backfield from the left slot, took a pitch around the right end, cut upfield and hurdled two defenders before reaching the nose of the ball across the goal line for a 13-yard touchdown. Prill’s extra point gave the home side a 7-6 lead.Tavaga returned the following kickoff 62-yards up the middle to the Australian 28, but the promising drive ended when the Iron Blacks turned the ball over on downs.

The next Iron Blacks drive was the game-winner. Receiver Josiah O’Connell had to leap to catch a 29-yard heave from Mac Askill, but held on despite the attention of safety Scott Rogers to set up the Iron Blacks at the Australian 17. On the next play Tavaga darted through the middle of the line, eluded McFadzean while drifting to the right sideline, then beat the pursuit to dive into the endzone untouched. Tanaka’s extra point was wide left, but the Iron Blacks had a 12-7 lead.

Australian Head Coach John Ludvigson believed O’Connell’s reception, on a drive that the Australians believed they had stymied, was the play that turned the match.“I think the catch was what broke it. Great yardage, great field position to set them up for the touchdown and I think the guys kind of dropped a bit after it,” he said.

Australia drove inside the New Zealand half with less than a minute left, but New Zealand countered the Outback’s spread offensive set by shifting their defensive linemen into the interior gaps, then blitzing linebackers through the large offensive line splits. Inside linebackers Christian Hellesoe and Telea Bragovits sealed the result by blitzing up the middle and sacking substitute quarterback Prills on fourth down.

The late defensive adjustment was the key in successsfully disrupting the Australian offence through the final stages of the match.“As the game went on, the offensive splits got wider and wider and we kept moving out lining head up,which is exactly how they’re trained, positionwise,” .

“Once we started tightening up the spaces, it was a case of two-on-one each time they (the New Zealand defensive line) came through, and it was only the guard that was taking them, so he had to choose, and that’s why our line came through so quickly.

Ludvigson was sombre after the game, saying his close-knit side was starting to comprehend just how close it had come to qualifying for the World Championships “I’m disappointed, but not in the boys. They boys gave everything that was asked of them. They played their hearts out, and New Zealand played a fantastic game,” he said. “Going into the game, and until the last minutes, I thought we were probably going to win the game. I thought we’d tire them out by then and our spread option was starting to work, but they hung on and played tough.”

Tavaga was the standout for New Zealand, with guard Digger Penetito also having a strong game. Hellesoe recorded 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks to lead the defense, while Bragovits chipped in with eight tackles and half a sack.

“We’ve been building up for this since August, so the guys have done a lot of work for it and they were ready mentally as well,” Mau’u said.“We knew we were going to be up against it and Australia come out like we expected – big and fast, played smart football and in the end it was just execution that won it for us on offense... and some special runners.” The softly-spoken Tavaga said he was surpised by the intensity of the clash, especially the response of the Australian defence to his first touchdown run.

“It was pretty hard, I never thought it was going to be that hard. Thank God we won. After that first touchdown I thought it was going to be pretty easy, but they came back pretty hard,” he said.

For Australia, Borghuis rushed for 58 yards on seven carries and also caught a 24-yard pass. McFadzean paced the defence with eight tackles, while Jesse Williams was a destructive prescence at defensive tackles, recording seven tackles and forcing one turnover. Over the next few weeks, the New Zealand staff will start to focus on the World Championships to be held in Canton in June and July.



1st quarter

New Zealand – Tavaga 59-yard (kick blocked)

2nd quarter

No Score

3rd quarter

Australia – Borghuis 13-yard run (Prills kick)

4th quarter

New Zealand – Tavaga 17-yard run (kick failed)



NZ: Tavaga 12-141 (2 TD), Gandy 12-40, Pasa-Sioka 5-16.

AUS: Borghuis 7-58 (1 TD), Monea 10-17, Tumata 3-11, Russell 5-5, Pappas 4--6, Rusby 15--8.


NZ: Mac Askill 1-6-29-2, Pasa Sioka 0-1-0-0.

AUS: Rusby 5-9-27-0, Prill 0-1-0-0.


NZ: O’Connell 1-29.

AUS: Russell 3-2, Borghuis 1-24, Beyer 1-1.


NZ: None

AUS: Townrow, Rourke.


NZ: Hellesoe 12, Bragovits 8.

AUS: McFadzean 8, Williams 7.


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