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Tight at the top in club rugby

Pua Tafa scored a crucial try for Marist. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

Four teams share the lead in the race for the Tui Cup semifinals. Times-Age sportswriter CHRIS COGDALE reviews the fifth round of premier club rugby.

Greytown, East Coast, Carterton and Marist share the lead, on 17 points, and only six points separate seven of the eight teams on a congested Moose Kapene Cup points table, with just two rounds to play until the semifinals.

Marist overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to beat defending champions Martinborough 41-35 at Memorial Park No 2 and cap off their 75th Jubilee celebrations in style.

The omens didn’t look good after 16 minutes with Martinborough taking an 18-3 lead through two penalties to second-five Tipene Haira and tries to first-five Tim Priest and right winger Charles Fisa.

The latter was a beauty from a potential star of the future. The Makoura College student ran deep from his own half, was tackled short of the line, and then got into position to score on the opposite wing.

The home side closed the gap to five points through a converted try to winger Soli Malatai and a Paddy Gluck penalty.

But Martinborough went into the break with a 25-13 lead after winger Nathan Hunt ran on to a beautiful pass from first-five Tim Priest. Fisa went close to extending the lead further but was tackled just short of the line.

Marist came out firing after the break and were rewarded almost immediately when Malatai scored under the posts.

A converted try to impressive Marist centre Leo Eneliko closed the gap to 27-28 with 28 minutes to play.

The defining moment came after 64 minutes when Martinborough blindside flanker Logan Flutey, who had been in outstanding form in a weakened forward pack, was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Malatai.

Marist capitalised adding two converted tries through replacement centre Senitula Tafa and second-five Pua Tafa for a 41-28 lead with seven minutes to play.

The drama wasn’t over though and the sinbinning of two Marist players for professional fouls, including captain Peter Beech, opened the door for Martinborough and they took the chance with Flutey scoring from a five-metre scrum.

But it was Marist who had the final opportunity.

Gluck had the chance to deny Martinborough a bonus point, but the kick hit the post and the entertaining game finished at 41-35.

Beech said he couldn’t have been prouder of the team.

“We went out there and talked about playing for the 75th Jubilee,” he said.

“If you want to be at the top of the table you have to beat the defending champions and at halftime [coach] Gerald [Lologa] just came in and said that’s out of the system, and I want to see the best 40 minutes this year and the boys just clicked straight away.”

Former All Black and Auckland midfielder Bernie McCahill, who was guest of honour for the Marist Jubilee, liked what he saw.

“I was quite impressed with the skill level, and the speed of the game,” he said. “Some of the midfield play was class. In our day you held on to the ball, but these guys know how to flick it and they know there’s someone running into holes. The Martinborough second-five [Haira], it’s good to see skills out there like that and some of the other midfielders are a bit bigger than our day.”

McCahill said it was great to catch up with some old friends.

“I met a couple of guys I haven’t seen for about 20 to 30 years from Spillane Cup tournaments so to catch up with them has been wonderful, and Shannon Paku, I coached him when he came up to Auckland, and Tony Hargood has been a good mate over a number of years,” he said.

“Marist is a family community and it doesn’t matter if you’re Masterton, Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch we all have the same sort of ethics and values. We’re very lucky in that regard. We’ve got mates all around the country. It’s a wonderful organisation.”

A strong finish by their experienced forward pack had Eketahuna come from behind to beat Greytown 19-17 at Eketahuna.

Greytown went out to a 12-0 lead and had the better of the forward exchanges early on, even scoring a pushover try in the first half.

The complexion of the game changed though when Greytown lost tighthead prop Lewis Bush to concussion.

The home side’s forwards gradually gained more dominance and did enough to secure the narrow win in a game dominated by uncompromising defence.

Carterton held on for a deserved 32-29 bonus point victory over East Coast at Carterton.

In an entertaining open game, both teams traded tries with the scores tied 22-22 midway through the second half.

A converted try and penalty gave the home side a 32-22 lead, only for the Coasties to close the gap to three points with a converted try.

East Coast opted for attacking scrums instead of penalty kicks at goal in an effort to win the game but in the end, Carterton came away as deserved winners.

Gladstone captain Josh Gatenby led by example as Gladstone recorded only their second win of the season, beating Pioneer 33-17 at Gladstone.

The blindside flanker scored three of the home side’s tries as they cruised to a bonus point victory.

Again Pioneer paid for a slow start, falling behind 19-3, and although they fought back in the second half it was too little, too late.

A try to veteran Gladstone midfielder Cameron Hayton in the last few minutes sealed the victory.

The lack of depth at Pioneer was highlighted with coach Nathan Riwai-Couch, who is in his mid-40s, taking the field in the second half.

Scores [home teams first]

Premier Moose Kapene Cup

Marist 41 Martinborough 35; Carterton 32 East Coast 29; Eketahuna 19 Greytown 17; Gladstone 33 Pioneer 17.


Greytown, East Coast, Carterton, Marist 17*; Eketahuna 14; Martinborough 13, Gladstone 11; Pioneer 1.
* Marist deducted three points for a team sheet breach in the first round.

Senior Reserves
Eketahuna 22 East Coast 43; Featherston 0 Greytown 58; Marist 31 Martinborough 0; Carterton 27 Gladstone 19; Puketoi 28 Pioneer 0.

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