A Marist player is unceremoniously dumped by Carterton’s Utah Walker. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

By Gary Caffell

Carterton took full advantage of their last throw of the dice to clinch the only vacancy left in the Wairarapa-Bush Tui Cup premier division rugby semi-finals next weekend.

Going into Saturday’s final round of qualifying games Gladstone, Greytown and Martinborough were all guaranteed semi-final spots with the remaining berth depending on whether fourth placed Pioneer could stave off what was sure to be a desperate last-ditch effort from Carterton.

And with Carterton walloping Marist 67-12 at Memorial Park and a gritty Pioneer losing 20-17 to Gladstone at Jeans St, the two teams finished with the same number of competition points, but Carterton got the nod for the semis by virtue of having beaten Pioneer in the last of their preliminary round clashes, a victory which came through a runaway try almost on fulltime.

To say Pioneer went out of the Tui Cup fighting would be the understatement of the year.

In fact you could make a good argument that about the only area where Gladstone had a clear advantage over them was on the scoreboard, and even that was a narrow three points.

The lack of a reliable goal kicker in the absence of the injured Joseph Thompson cost Pioneer dearly for they missed at least three kicks from comfortable range and there was a brief period in the second half when they only had 13 players on the paddock with two in the sin bin.

Pre-match speculation that Pioneer might struggle to combat the ruggedness of the Gladstone pack couldn’t have been further off the mark.

They gave every bit as good as they received in terms of both physicality and skill and in No 8 Jonte Miller had perhaps the most influential forward on the paddock.

He made several surging runs through the course of the game and was equally effective in his close quarter defence.

So often did Pioneer second-five Nikora Ewe penetrate the opposition defences with his hard, straight running in the opening 20 minutes there were thoughts of the game turning into something of a one-man show and while he was not so prominent from then on he remained his team’s main attacking weapon.

It was their tenacity on defence which impressed most about the Gladstone performance.

Yes, there were some powerful attacking surges from the likes of Andrew Smith and Eddie Cranston up front and Matt McCrae in the backs, but it was the solidness of their tackling, especially in the last 10 minutes when Pioneer were throwing everything at them bar the proverbial kitchen sink, which kept their noses in front.

Here too Cranston was an inspiration with his high work rate and Smith, a surprise omission from the extended Wairarapa-Bush Heartland squad, was little behind him.

It was hard to know whether Carterton’s demolition of Marist was just as a much a case of Marist only offering token opposition as it was them playing well but it was certainly an impressive performance by the maroons who couldn’t have wished for a better start with promising winger Chester Rothery racing in for a try inside the first two minutes.

That early momentum was maintained throughout the opening 20 minutes with Carterton scoring at a point a minute through that period and by halftime they already had the crucial bonus point for registering four or more tries in the bag, and led by a commanding 33-0.

The second half was pretty much a repeat of the first with Carterton calling the tune in territory and possession and continuing to pile on the points at a rapid rate, although Marist did at least manage to score some points of their own as well.

With hard-working forwards such as Lochie McFadzean and Ethan Pinfold ensuring that they were given a regular supply of quality ball to strut their stuff, the Carterton backs produced their best attacking display of the season.

Outstanding in midfield with his astute direction of play and ability to create space for his outsides was Utah Walker while wing Rothery impressed with his speed and elusiveness and fullback Corey McFadzean was a constant threat whenever he joined the line.

There were healthy scorelines too in the other two Tui Cup matches played on Saturday with Martinborough thumping Eketahuna 54-7 and Greytown defeating East Coast 66-10.

The semi-final draw for next weekend sees Gladstone at home to Carterton and Greytown playing host to Martinborough.

Most interest in senior reserve matches on Saturday was in the top four encounter between Masterton Red Star and Tuhirangi and it was Masterton Red Star who ran out comfortable 36-19 winners.

In ‘middle four’ games Featherston beat Greytown 51-7 and Carterton beat Pioneer 32-19 while in the only “bottom four” match played Gladstone accounted for Eketahuna 30-15.