Buller scored a try after the final hooter sounded to secure a home Meads Cup final in the Heartland Championship.
Playing Horowhenua Kapiti in Westport, the visitors had just kicked a penalty to tie the game at 15-15, seemingly sending the semifinal to extra time.
But Buller first-five James Lash produced some individual brilliance in the final seconds, collecting a kick before streaking 50 metres up field to score under the posts.
Buller fans went berserk as Lash ran for the try line, while Horowhenua Kapiti players put hands on heads in shock.
It was a huge comeback from the hosts, having trailed 9-0 at one point, and 12-5 at halftime.
Horowhenua Kapiti first-five Perry Hayman struck three early penalties to give his side a handy lead, making the most of a strong breeze at their backs.
The competition’s top try scorer Iliesa Ravudra then scored to bring his team back into it, but Hayman extended the lead again on the stroke of halftime.
Buller tried to make use of the wind in the second half, but Horowhenua Kapiti continued to boss possession and territory, spending long periods camped inside Buller’s half.
When the hosts did get the ball they made the most of it, with Lash slotting a penalty before Setefano Sauqaqa crossed for Buller’s second try.
That handed Buller their first lead of the match, up 15-12 with 20 minutes remaining.
Those 20 minutes were spent almost entirely inside Buller’s 22m, and despite giving up several penalties, Horowhenua Kapiti were intent on kicking for the sideline in search of a try.
Buller’s defence held firm, and with two minutes remaining Hayman finally lined up the posts to send the match to extra time.
Or so it was thought.
The restart went deep, but Horowhenua Kapiti worked the ball back up to halfway with time up.
A little chip kick was then put through by the visitors, which Lash stuck his foot out to stop.
He got a lucky bounce, eluding incoming Horowhenua Kapiti defenders, allowing him to run into open pasture and towards the try line.
Buller manager Andrew Duncan said the Meads Cup semifinal was Buller’s biggest match in their history, but they’ll go one better next week.
“It was fitting that James Lash was the one to win it for us,” he said.
“Horowhenua Kapiti really bossed the game. They were huge on defence. We didn’t get many chances.
“But our defence was huge as well. That saved us, really. It was a great game.”
Buller will host Mid Canterbury in the Meads Cup final next weekend, after the Cantabrians beat Poverty Bay 29-17 in Gisborne.
Glenn Moore’s side got out to a fast start and never looked back, although Poverty Bay did make it a seven point game with less than 20 minutes remaining.
Moore said the focus ahead of the final will be on his side, despite the stunning season Buller are having.
“It’s all about what we do. The way Buller have been playing will have no bearing on our preparation,” he said.
“Travelling to Westport doesn’t concern us at all. We aren’t worried about playing them over there.”In the Lochore Cup semifinals, top seeds King Country were given an old fashioned hammering by Wanganui in Te Kuiti.
In a rematch of last week’s final round match between the teams, which King Country won 30-29, Wanganui found another gear to win 37-6.
King Country were uninspired on attack, and sluggish on defence, allowing Wanganui to run into space and create opportunities.
Wanganui will travel to Oamaru to play North Otago for the Lochore Cup, with the seventh-ranked team toppling South Canterbury 16-12 in Timaru.
At Alpine Energy Stadium South Canterbury led after 15 minutes but found themselves down 10-9 after North Otago wing, Matthew Vocea, a St Kevin’s schoolboy, went over in the corner and Englishman Ben Palmer slotted a sideline conversion.
A late penalty restored South Canterbury’s lead but two penalties in the second half saw North Otago home.
For North Otago, hooker Kilioni Taufa had a strong game despite a yellow card, while lock Sale Pii and captain Josh Clark also impressed.
In the backs a clever substitution of Palmer for for loan player Stephen Fememor at first-five proved decisive with Fenemor’s tactical kicking keeping South Canterbury pinned back in the final 20 minutes, while halfback Robbie Smith also played very well.
BEN STRANG AND STU PIDDINGTON – Stuff