After a season where nothing went right for the Vanuatu Rugby League (VRL) it all came together with a thrilling finish to the year. It took two attempts but the annual Port Vila Fire Ants vs Santo Boars finally took place recently (12th December) in Port Vila in a highly entertaining fixture in front of a vocal crowd.
After cancelled flights left the Port Vila team stranded just two weeks earlier, cancelling the first scheduled fixture, this time it was Santo heading to Port Vila to play in the fourth annual and first stand-alone fixture between these two great rivals. Santo were looking to end Port Vila's three year domination, while Port Vila was looking to remain unbeaten in the contests.
The Fire Ants flew out of the blocks with a try in the 4th minute to Anro Kalpukai and conversion by Dominique Sablan to lead 6-0. The next 30 minutes were dominated by the Boars who raced to a 16-6 lead at the 38th minute mark with tries to Lester Kalpukai (9th minute), David Sablan (20th minute) and Waute Chicharau (34th minute) with Waute Chicharua successful with two of the three conversions.
The Boars were denied a deserved half-time lead with late tries to Dominique Sablan (38th minute) and a try right on half-time to Allan Avia (40th minute) with Alickson Napakaurana successful with one conversion to have the scores level at 16 all.
The Fire Ants started where they left off with their 3rd try in 5 minutes when Dominque Sablan crossed for his second try in the 41st minute. The arm wrestle continued and despite the best efforts of the Boars, they were unable to cross again against a more composed Fire Ants in the second half. Test players Sweeny Sablan (54th minute) and Dave Lolo (80th minute) crossed for further tries while Vanuatu's youngest Test player Julian Wells added the sole conversion of the second half for the Fire Ants to run out 30-16 victors.
In the curtain raiser Ifira BB RL defeated Pango GB RL 62-0.
VRL President Tom Carlo was impressed with the fixture "It took a lot of effort to get the game up but it just shows you the determination of those involved with Rugby League in Vanuatu, especially those involved with the Boars and Fire Ants to ensure Rugby League has a successful future.
"This game was the catalyst to launch two rugby league competitions in Port Vila and Santo in 2016 but also continue to introduce the game in new markets such as we did in Tanna through our relationship with the New Zealand Police earlier this year.
"This year has also taught us a lot and we're looking to finalise our new Strategic Plan to take us through to the 2019 Pacific Games with our end goal to not only represent Vanuatu but bring home a medal."
The VRL has also been in talks with a number of nations about returning to Test football in 2016. This match was seen as the first of a number of selection fixtures leading into 2016 where the VRL are looking to pay a number of games. A number of players impressed the national selectors with Lester Kalpukai and Ian Willie Vuti voted the stand outs for Santo, while Dominque Sablan, Max Taleo, Dave Lolo and Allan Avia were voted Port Vila's best.
Port Vila Fire Ants 30 (Dominque Sablan – 2, Anro Kalpukai, Allan Avia, Sweeny Sablan and Dave Lolo tries, Dominque Sablan, Alickson Napakaurana and Julian Wells conversion) defeated Santo Boars 16 (Lester Kalpukai, Davido Sablan and Waute Chicharua tries and Waute Chicharau – 2 conversions).