Sometimes you win a little - even in defeat.
Wainuiomata's premier rugby team had achieved something special before the Jubilee Cup kicked off.
Coach Justin Wilson had spent a week being congratulated by the old-timers for taking the club to its first final since its formation in 1946.
Wainuiomata College first XV's pre-match haka summed up the pride among the horde who had made the trip over the hill to Hutt Recreation Ground.
It quickly became apparent the players, led by big props Justin and David Va'a, and the loose trio of Greg Lealofi, Shahn Eru and Henry Stowers, were not there to make up the numbers.
They carried the ball like men possessed. Young fullback Josh Robertson-Weepu marked himself as a skilful and composed player as he kicked his side into position over the opening 40 minutes.
They went within a whisker of becoming Wainui's first Wellington rugby champions before falling 14-11 as Hutt Old Boys Marist's collective effort prevailed. But for wing Tyler Tane's three missed penalties and a conversion, it could have been different.
But losing did not seem an appropriate adjective by fulltime.
Tane, whose misses had largely been from long distance or acute angle, sat crushed on the 22 as his team-mates dropped to their knees.
They had given everything.
"It was a fantastic day. The boys poured their hearts out on to the field today," Wilson said at fulltime.
"They didn't get the result but I'm pretty sure everybody around them was very proud of how they performed. They didn't let themselves down at all."
Missing key players Ben Tupuola and Tau Mamea, who could not play due to religious beliefs, Wainui kept HOBM scoreless for 50 minutes.
They led 8-0 at halftime thanks to Eru's try and did not relinquish the lead until the 68th minute when Hutt halfback Sheridan Rangihuna put the home side up 11-8.
Still Wainui fought.
Tane nailed a difficult angled penalty to tie the scores at 11-11 and in the dying minutes went within centimetres of landing a 45-metre shot into the wind that would have sent the final to overtime.
"It's all about field position when it comes to the final and I thought Hutt played better position than us on the whole," Wilson said. "We just didn't capitalise on getting down to their end of the field and then a couple of crucial injuries hurt us."
One of those was Robertson-Weepu whose tactical kicking may have been crucial in the tense second half.
Wainui will rue a decision not to kick out of their 22 with only six minutes left, the penalty conceded at the ruck allowing Rangihuna to land his decisive goal.
"I guess that's where we have to learn and fix things up for next season's," Wilson said.
"We have a great nucleus in this team and we're keen to get them back next year. We'll start work in November and it won't be the last time you see Wainui in a Jubilee Cup final, that's for sure.
"There is an immense amount of talent in Wainui itself. I'm happy to be part of that and watching the new breed of young guns coming through and reaching their potential. A lot of them have only been there a year and I think in another 18 months you will see the real potential come out."
Wilson was not sure whether Va'a, the team's inspirational tighthead veteran, would be back next year, but said he would love to have him.
"There might be a few guys on the other side of 30 who thought this could be their one and only chance but I'm pretty keen to make sure that's not the case.
"We will work hard to get the boys back up to another final. That's the sign of a good side, that they don't just turn up once, but go again and again . . . I'm just so proud of everyone of the boys who fronted for us.
"I really feel for the boys in there right now."
Wainuiomata had former All Black Piri Weepu running water for them yesterday.
Meanwhile, Poneke halfback Edwin Ainley scored all his team's points in their 19-9 win over Northern United in yesterday's Hardham Cup final.
- The Dominion Post
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