The Top 4 semi-finals on Friday provided some thrilling rugby at a blustery Sport and Rugby Institute at Massey University in Palmerston North.
Sunday's finals will see St Peter's College play Napier Boys' High School (boys), Rangiora High School meet St Peter's Cambridge (Co-ed) and Hamilton Girls' High School and Manukura square off (girls).
Reports of semi-finals below.
Single Success For St Peter’s Again
St Peter's College will contest the National Top 4 decider for the first time since 2000 after their third one point victory in a finals match this season.
Hamilton Boys’ High School was held scoreless in the second-half of an 8-7 arm wrestle.
The bitterly strong southerly made handling and tactical kicking close to impossible reducing the spectacle to a spluttering, intense affair.
The winning try was scored in the 42nd minute by wing PJ Tonga, crossing in the corner from a perfectly executed 8/9 scrum play. Niko Jones created a hole with a device blindside carry before transferring to halfback Sam Wye who delivered the final pass to Tonga. The movement unfolded just inside the Hamilton 22.
Initially Hamilton started with a precision which would remain illusive for the remainder of the contest. A series of strong phases down the blindside, with heavy involvement from openside flanker Jake Russ and wing Leweni Mocevakaca, finished in a try to Cortez-Lee Ratima.
Ironically a backwards fumble by Lee-Ratima would create hesitation in the St Peter’s defense allowing the halfback to slip through. Demante Murray slotted the conversion and it was 7-0 to Hamilton after six minutes.
Hamilton was able to disrupt St Peter’s lineout regularly in the first-half, but a lapse in discipline allowed Ajay Falefaga to kick a penalty and reduce the deficit to 7-3 - the halftime score.
Much of the match was played between the two 10 metre lines with neither team successfully navigating the wind.
Lee-Ratima followed a break with an ill-advised kick and Hamilton lock Joshua Lord bounced through two tackles and squeezed a pass to fullback Joshua Calvert who split with vacant pasture ahead. Chances were otherwise sparse in the opening 35 minutes.
The second-half was even more grim with St Peter’s defense a catalyst for their success. St Peter’s was able to win several turnovers from holding Hamilton players up and creating mauls.
Loose forwards Jones, Chris Halaufia and Semisi Tapa were busy and abrasive while Leo Ngatai-Taufa became the solitary source of lineout possession and prop ‘Mount’ Zion Holo played himself to a standstill.
In the dying stages Hamilton threatened to win the match in a similar fashion to the Super 8 final. More than a dozen phases were constructed as Hamilton battled gamely into the St Peter’s 22. An expansive pass resulted in a knock on. St Peter’s successfully cleared from the scum.
Lock Josh Lord and captain Thomas Martin were outstanding for Hamilton. Prop Keelan Hotlen McMullen was full of industry and Russ scrapped valiantly.
St Peter’s beat Wellington College 20-12 in their last National Top Four final in 2000.
Napier forwards turn Christchurch Black and Blue
Napier Boys’ High School hold the Moascar Cup for the first time since 2003 and will look to win the National Top Four for the second time after overpowering Christchurch Boys’ High School 31-12.
Napier’s forward pack has won acclaim all season for their rigorous approach and a 17-0 lead established in as many minutes effectively settled the contest.
Napier targeted the fringe of Christchurch’s ruck defence to build momentum and territory. It was a simple but devastatingly effective method.
Flanker Josh Gimblett rumbled over for the first try following a lineout maul before wing Jack Sheridan and prop Patrick Teddy couldn’t be denied from sustained pressure.
Christchurch eventually shored up their defense and did well not concede any more points in the first spell.
Christchurch tried to play more expansively in the second-spell, but conditions made that approach risky. Hooker Henry Craw opened Christchurch's account by finding himself unmarked on the wing, but handling errors soon gifted Napier favourable field position.
Sheridan’s second try made it 24-7. Bruising centre Leo Thompson had tried to reach out a phase early.
Christchurch closed the gap to 24-14 with a second converted score, but fittingly Napier had the final say when substitute Angus Kilmister wriggled through a crowd of bodies.
Hooker Tyrone Thompson led Napier’s superior forward charge. Despite a somewhat lapsed 20 minutes their tactics were ideal for the weather and shouldn’t be altered majorly for Sunday’s decider against St Peter’s.
The last time Napier Boys’ High School contested the top four final was in 2003 when they were beaten by Rotorua Boys’ High School 11-31.
Hamilton Hammer Aorere
Hamilton Girls’ High School overpowered Auckland champions Aorere College 62-5 to earn their place in a fourth consecutive final.
The first-half was genuinely competitive, but the floodgates opened straight after the interval when halfback Montessa Tairakena scored her second try to make it 22-5.
Tairakena bagged a hat-trick and her first was the best, clinically dummying to her inside No.8 and outside wing in a classic halfback dash from a scrum.
Aorere fought back keenly and forced Hamilton into an extended period on defense. However a knock on over the try line resulted in no profit. Hamilton cleared and another fumble allowed centre Jazmin Hotham to dribble the ball football style over the line.
Hotham soon had a second hitting a prefect short ball at pace and dashing 40-meters. Aorere scored a deserved try to first-five Pasty Chan at the end of the first-half.
Loose forwards Ana Mamea and Glory Aiono were the pick of the Aucklanders who lacked the polish of the two-time former champions.
Hamilton’s speed and fitness has seen them amass 920 points in 14 games this season. Openside Nyesha Hamilton scored a try and kicked six conversions - a mighty effort into the wind while lock Veisinia Fakelalu fended off half of the Aorere team in a spectacular 50-metre solo.
Manukura hold off Southland GHS
Manukura will play in their first Top 4 girls final after winning a much more even semi-final than the first.
This semi-final was close throughout and Southland were in the fight for long periods. Southland’s forwards were at least the equal of Manukura’s, but the Hurricanes qualifier’s backs proved the difference.
In particular a star turn by Manukura fullback Carys Dallinger.
The New Zealand U18 Sevens squad member scored a hat-trick of tries – all three high quality strikes showing fantastic footwork, an eye for an opportunity and speed to beat the last defenders.
She also had a direct hand in two more, as Manukura led 19-12 at halftime and kept themselves in front throughout the second half.
Southland got back to 22-29 with over 10 minutes still to play, needing to score twice as a draw would have sent Manukura through because they scored the game’s first try.
Dallinger set up a decisive try immediately after halftime after a one-minute build-up, grubbering ahead and blindside flanker Jasmine O’Connell running through to score off. This put Manukura ahead 24-12.
Southland hit straight back after some strong lead-up work, their lock Libby Napier prominent in a workmanlike forwards try. Southland also lost their industrious No. 8 and 2016 Top 4 winner Emma Dermody to a bad head knock just prior to this try.
Dallinger’s second try followed next. Manukura nabbed a Southland lineout on halfway and went wide to the fullback up in the line. Seeing space, she kicked ahead, toed ahead again, regathered and scored in front of the VIP pavilion.
Southland came back again with a try set up through their hard working forwards, captain and openside flanker Bree Thomas and both locks Jaidene Marshall and Libby Napier prominent.
Manukura regained territory and the Dallinger show resumed from first phase possession off a scrum in Southland’s 22, making it 36-22.
Once more, Southland came back hard and this time blindside flanker Shakoia Tonihi scored for them, cutting the lead to seven points.
Manukura had the last say with Dallinger throwing a skipout pass to wing Plum King and she scored the try that sealed the win.
Earlier, Manukura had made a dream start when they attacked from a scrum on halfway and centre Paris Paul crossed the whitewash. NZ U18s first five-eighth Kalyn Takitimu-Cook kicked the conversion.
Southland regrouped and scored a clinical team try after a multiphase build-up close to the line to lock Napier. Manukura scored their second try through No. 8 off the back of a scrum Phoenix Huriwai, but Southland replied with another try through their forwards similar to their first to make it 12-12.
Dallinger showed her hand immediately before the break slicing through traffic to score her first try and putting Manukura up 19-12 at the break.
St Peter’s Cambridge to defend title against rugged Rangiora
The coed semi-finals were contrasting affairs with reigning champions St Peter’s Cambridge thrashing Mount Albert Grammar School 55-18 while Rangiora High School rallied from 12-3 down to stun perennial contenders Feilding High School 15-12.
St Peter’s led MAGS 27-18 with about 20 minutes remaining - pulling clear with the last four converted tries.
Feilding started brightly against Rangiora leading 7-3 at halftime - an advantage that could have been much greater.
Diminutive blonde wing Cody Osborne, or the ‘Targaryen,’ opened the scoring when he swerved around multiple defenders in a 70-metre breakout.
Feilding could have doubled their advantage from another long range breakout, but the final pass was forward.
Feilding scored first after halftime following a storming charge by their lock, but Rangiora’s forwards are a stubborn herd and relentless pressure resulted in a try which narrowed the gap to 12-8.
Rangiora No.8 Angus Fletcher has been a standout all season and when he dramatically charged 15-meters untouched, Rangiora had a shock led with about seven minutes left.
Feilding bombed two tries. Centre Josiah Maraku busted, but didn’t deliver a pass when he had men to spare on his outside and Rangiora fullback Del Rio MackIntosh denied Feilding a try with the last play after a heroic tackle which defined his size.
Below: fulltime in the St Peter's v Hamilton BHS boys semi-final. Report above.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand