Tipene Haira, left, and Martinborough captain Jono Hartnell hold the Tui Cup aloft with the team. PHOTOS/JADE CVETKOV
Twelve tries and two hat-tricks – Times-Age sportswriter Chris Cogdale reviews Saturday’s entertaining Tui Cup final.
A 28-year drought is over for Martinborough.
For the first since 1991 the proud club lifted the Tui Cup with a 36-32 win over Gladstone in a pulsating premier club final at Memorial Park on Saturday.
But the final result was no indication of how the game started.
Two-time defending champions Gladstone set the tone for the game, looking to spread the ball from the first whistle.
A half-break by livewire halfback Inia Katia split the Martinborough defence, with powerful No 8 Joe Tako scoring the first of his three tries from the ensuing breakdown with just 72 seconds on the clock.
Gladdy were in again in the sixth minute when Tako swept on to a loose ball from a Martinborough knock-on to send winger Logan Prendeville-Heberton away to score in the corner and increase the lead to 10-0.
Marty hit back four minutes later when they took a quick tap. Big second-five Nikora Ewe burst through the defence, passing to first-five Tim Priest, who went one way and then the other before passing to Marty’s own hat-trick hero big lock George Bunnett, who crashed over. That cut the deficit to 10-5.
But the margin was soon back out to 10 points when Tako scored his second try after 14 minutes.
At the same time, Gladdy lost their goalkicker, first-five Tim Griffith, to an ankle injury and he was replaced by Jeremy Osborne.
The signs were looking good for Gladstone as they were running the ball at will and making a lot of ground against a hesitant Martinborough defence.
But it was the green and blacks who scored next as they slowly started to gain ascendancy in the forwards.
Hot on attack they opted for a scrum 10 metres out. Several phases later blindside flanker Nathan Kapene muscled his way over the tryline, and with Tipene Haira converting the score was 15-12 after only 19 minutes of play.
The try-fest continued three minutes later when Tako completed his hat-trick after a scintillating 40m run by fullback Harry Eschenbach.
There was then the rare sight of Osborne’s conversion attempt being charged down.
Gladdy went close to extending their lead, only for flanker Ryan Knell to be tackled just short of the line. Their lack of a quality goalkicker was again exposed with Osborne missing an easy penalty from 28m in front.
Martinborough upped the ante in the forwards and began to gain the territorial advantage. Despite being awarded a couple of kickable penalties, they opted for quick taps or scrums to keep the pressure on the Gladstone defence.
Their patience was finally rewarded in the last play before halftime, with Bunnett scoring under the post to cut Gladdy’s lead to one point.
There was also another pivotal moment with Tako going from hero to zero, being yellow carded for a late tackle in the movement leading up to the try.
The second half started almost the same as the first, with Gladstone attacking. Eschenbach easily brushed aside a feeble Nathan Hunt tackle, before being held up over the line.
Martinborough’s one-man advantage was soon two, when flanker Eddie Cranston was sin-binned for a professional foul close to the line. Lock Toby Rowlands scored from the quick tap to give the green and blacks a 24-20 lead.
No 8 Logan Flutey was the next to get his name on the scoresheet when the Gladstone scrum crumbled on their own line, meaning Marty had scored 12 points in the 17 minutes Gladstone had players in the bin.
By this stage, the southern boys were well on top and the lead was soon 16 points, with a 36-20 scoreline after Bunnett crossed for his hat-trick.
Gladstone gave themselves some hope when Knell scored with 10 minutes to play, narrowing the gap to 11 points.
But the Martinborough forwards rolled up their sleeves and denied Gladstone possession.
Whatever ball Gladdy did get, they spun it wide but they were unable to break the stubborn Marty defence until the last move of the game when Prendeville-Heberton crossed for his second try – but by then the game was well and truly gone.
All that was left was a rousing haka by the Martinborough senior reserve players as the champions moved to the podium to receive their medals and the prized Tui Cup.
For the winners, the entire forward pack were magnificent, while in the backs, Tim Priest directed play superbly, Ewe was full of running, and centre Haira showed his maturity in organising his defensive line after a shaky start.
For Gladstone, Katia was his usual nuisance at halfback, with his jinking runs and clever kicking. Tako was a big powerful runner, and Prendeville-Heberton took his opportunities well.
But in the end the lack of a reliable goalkicker did not help their cause.
Tui Cup Final
Martinborough 36 [George Bunnett , Toby Rowlands, Nathan Kapene, Logan Flutey tries; Tipene Haira 3 cons], Gladstone 32 [Joe Tako , Logan Prendeville-Heberton , Ryan Knell tries, Jeremy Osborne con]
Carterton 43 East Coast 20
Greytown 48 Tuhirangi 5
Martinborough 33 Eketahuna 27
Gladstone 18 Featherston 13