Chance Ropiha scores the winning try for Martinborough. PHOTO/KYLIE EVANS
Gladstone and Martinborough are through to the Tui Cup final. Times-Age sportswriter Chris Cogdale reviews Saturdays’ exciting semifinals.
Martinborough 15 Greytown 10
A converted try in the last five minutes gave Martinborough the edge in a tense semifinal against Greytown.
Playing away from home, Greytown had taken a 10-5 lead in the 58th minute when they were awarded a penalty try from a collapsed scrum. That came after the sinbinning of a Martinborough forward for a tip tackle and looked like being the decisive moment of the game.
However, the home side stuck to their game plan of keeping the ball close to the forwards in the cold slippery conditions. Their patience paid off when dynamic halfback Chance Ropiha finally breached the staunch
Greytown defence and dived over near the posts after a concerted period of pressure.
Centre Tipi Haira coolly slotted the conversion for a 12-10 lead. He then closed out the game in the final minute with a penalty from a handy position.
Although there could have been a calamitous finish for Martinborough when one of their players went to kick the ball out to end the game but instead kicked it towards his own goal line, forcing his defenders to scramble back and prevent one last Greytown attack and potential embarrassment.
Greytown had first use of the brisk southerly breeze but struggled to break the stubborn Martinborough defence throughout the first half. A penalty goal to first-five Raniera Peterson was all they had to show for their early dominance of territory and possession.
Despite playing much of the first half in their own territory, Martinborough took the lead after 25 minutes. In one of their few forays into the Greytown half, the home side kept hammering away through nearly 20 phases before big lock George Bunnett found the gap to score the first try.
The match was dominated by outstanding defence by both teams. The Greytown loose forward trio of Tana and Tevita Isaac and Jonty Millar were to the forefront of knocking back many promising Martinborough attacks.
For the winners, Ropiha was a nuisance with his sniping runs from the base of breakdowns and scrums, while the experience of first-five Tim Priest and centre Haira shone through in trying conditions. Much credit must go to the hardworking forward pack’s never-say-die attitude.
Gladstone 28 Eketahuna 12
A late surge had defending champions Gladstone score three tries and book their place in their third consecutive Tui Cup final.
The Eketahuna forwards dominated much of the first half of the match played at Gladstone. A try to flanker Johan van Vliet gave them a 5-3 lead at the interval.
Van Vliet crossed for his second try early in the second half to extend the lead to 12-3, but the rest of the match belonged to the home team.
The experience of winning the past two championships shone through as the likes of veteran lock Andrew McLean, frontrower Richard Puddy, halfback Inia Katia and imposing No 8 Joe Tako rolled up their sleeves and wrested control of the game from Eke.
Tries to Tako, veteran centre Cameron Hayton and fullback Harry Eschenbach sealed an impressive victory.
For Eketahuna, centre Robbie Anderson stood out on defence and attack in his first game back since breaking a thumb six weeks ago, while No 8 Sam Shaw and prop Sam Gammie also impressed.
But in the end their lack of depth on the bench probably proved the difference between the two teams.
Meanwhile, in the Hodder-Steffert Cup semifinal at Memorial Park, East Coast caused a minor upset beating Marist 38-26 and booking their place in the final against Carterton.
Scores [home teams first]
Tui Cup semifinals
Martinborough 15 [George Bunnett, Chance Rophia tries, Tipi Haira pen, con], Greytown 10 [penalty try, Raniera Peterson pen] HT 5-3; Gladstone 28 [Cameron Hayton, Joe Tako, Harry Eschenbach tries; Tim Griffiths 3 pens, 2 cons], Eketahuna 12 [Johan van Vliet tries , Josh Pepperell con] HT 3-5.
Hodder-Steffert Cup semifinal – Marist 26 East Coast 38.
Carterton 29, Puketoi 17; Greytown 8, Tuhirangi 19
Marist 5, Eketahuna 24; Pioneer Old Boys 24, Martinborough 43