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It’s a Toka, Uawa final

Chanz proves a fine thing with last-gasp match-winner

Finishing touch: Uawa flanker Rikki Kernohan about to slam dunk the ball for a try in his side’s thrilling 31-29 win over Tihirau Victory Club in East Coast club rugby’s semifinals on Saturday. Uawa will face Tokararangi to decide the 2018 champions after Toka beat Hikurangi 31-24. Picture by Te Rauhuia Ngata

Uawa will play Tokararangi in the Ngati Porou East Coast club rugby final after two stellar semifinals at the weekend. Uawa beat 2017 champions Tihirau Victory Club 31-29 in Tolaga Bay while Tokararangi defeated top qualifiers Hikurangi 31-24 in Tokomaru Bay. Uawa, as second qualifiers, will host the Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield final this Saturday.

Competition is fierce, there is no such thing as certainty and the tide can turn in a heartbeat.

Reserve flanker Chanz Hale was the toast of Tokararangi after scoring the match-winning try in the 81st minute of a pulsating semifinal clash at Hatea a Rangi.

Tokararangi, who chose to default to Hikurangi in the last round-robin match a week ago, came up with their best rugby of the season when it mattered most.

The Israel Brown-led side matched the “Maunga (mountain)” try for try — four apiece — and at 24-all with fulltime up on the clock, extra time was looming.

Step up super-sub Hale. The blindside flanker Chanz Hale ran the length of the field, to the delight of his Toka teammates and supporters, to shatter Hiku’s hopes of regaining the title.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Toka player-coach Morgan Wirepa junior. “It was with such a close, well-contested game that could have gone either way, but the boys never gave up.”

His Hikurangi coaching counterpart, Doone Harrison, said it was an “awesome” semi held in perfect conditions.

“I’m proud of our team,” said Harrison. “We were playing catch-up all the way through, got it to 24-all, missed out on a try in the corner and last play of the game Toka go 100 metres to score.”

Tokararangi opened the scoring with a try to lock Hone Haerewa 15 minutes in.

Left-wing William Martin converted and would go on to add the trimming to Toka’s other three tries and kick a penalty in an exceptional display of goal-kicking on a day that saw a number of heroic performances from players in both teams.

Hikurangi first-five Te Kaiwi Parata hit back in the 19th minute, fullback Fabyan Kahaki converting to make it 7-all.

No.8 Wirepa scored in the 30th minute and Martin’s conversion made it 14-7, where it stayed to halftime.

Tokararangi increased their lead when centre Te Whetu Waitoa scored and Martin’s third conversion moved them 21-7 ahead.

A combination of guts and flair from Hikurangi halfback Neihana Ratahi-Brown got them back into it.

He scored two tries in succession, the second of which was converted by Kahaki — 21-19

Martin then kicked a penalty — 24-19.

Reserve winger cum flanker Tanetoa Parata scored to level it at 24-all only for Hale to decide it. Martin’s conversion was the last act of a superb game.

Tokararangi captain halfback Israel Brown acknowledged the try-saving endeavours of Martin and second-five Teina Potae, plus the invaluable lineout work of openside flanker Watarawi Ngata.

“We’re happy to get the win and make the final because it was tough going last year,” said Brown. “Everyone was on form. Our backs were great value, we made our tackles. We wanted this.”

Referee Whiti Timutimu, assistants Matt Richards and Melvyn Ashford, and substitution controller Victor Herbert contributed to an open, free-flowing game played in excellent spirit.

Martin and Ratahi-Brown were named players of the day for their teams.

The double to Ratahi-Brown meant he finished top Hikurangi tryscorer with eight tries.

Uawa halfback Sam Parkes and teammate Jordan Birch — who did the hat-trick as left wing in Game 1 but played centre in the 2 v 3 semifinal — both matched the Maunga halfback’s tally with a try each on Saturday.

Uawa right wing Tipene Meihana also has eight tries for the season, with only Te Aho Haenga (10) and Pamona Samupo (11), both of Tokararangi, currently in double figures. Their tallies alone should raise red flags for the hosts this weekend.

Although Samupo didn’t dot down on Saturday and is 33 points shy of Hikurangi’s Te Aho Matua Morice (110) as the competition’s leading points-scorer, he is extremely dangerous.

Uawa captain lock Scott Lasenby and company came through their own sword-on-the-chest test against Tihirau Victory Club. They were asked hard questions in the course of their 31-29 win.

TVC lock Tim Wheeler opened the scoring in the seventh minute, with a conversion by right wing Peti Delamere for 7-0.

In the 10th minute, Uawa fullback BJ Sidney fielded a kick from TVC first five-eighth Verdon Bartlett 10 metres from halfway, went right to winger Niao Savage, who found halfback Sam Parkes on his inside with Sidney then flying the next 30m to score in the club-side corner.

TVC tighthead prop Rawiri Waititi scored off a pick-and-go play in the 13th minute, his try being converted by Delamere for 14-5 but, 20 minutes in, quick-thinking by Parkes and a shift to Rikki Kernohan centrefield gave the big openside flanker a clear path down the ground. He ran 29m to score. Parkes converted from in front of the posts, but TVC were still 14-12 ahead.

Delamere kicked a penalty head-on from the 22, 22 minutes into the game, for 17-12, Uawa players not having rolled clear at a TVC ruck.

Uawa first-five Mangu Kemp got a super pass to Jordan Birch 15m out from the line. The powerhouse centre then took two men with him as he scored. His try, converted by Parkes, meant the home team took a 19-17 lead in the 25th minute.

Parkes gave a great assist to hooker Wyntah Riki close in at the 30-minute mark. His conversion provided the half-time score, 26-17.

TVC halfback Tevita Ahoafi tapped the ball on his own 22 and found Bartlett to his left on the fly. He got past halfway before making the pass to centre Anthony Heal, who kicked ahead and regathered to score. That made it 26-22 to Uawa, 60 minutes into the game.

In the 62nd minute, reserve centre Jesse Rye found Parkes on the inside down the right-side touch for 31-22 but TVC weren’t done. Openside flanker Hoani Te Moana scored in the 75th minute — Uawa were now 31-29 in front.

TVC had two last-gasp opportunities to snatch victory — penalty attempts, 10m in from the left sideline, 45m out, by Hirini Delamere and another 15m in from the left touch, 40m out, by fullback Benny Haerewa.

Uawa second-five Rikki Crawford was his team’s player of the day, as both sides upped the ante in one of the best games played on the Coast this season.

Veteran tighthead prop Puri Hauiti played a robust game for Uawa.

TVC captain and second-five Moana Mato made two try-saving tackles.

“It was a good fast semi — an expansive game,” Mato said.

“Verdon Bartlett attacked the line, their No.8 Harley Phillips ran strongly, Puri hit the short ball hard.

“We wanted to back up this year and couldn’t quite make it, but the score tells you how close it was.”

Mato complimented Poverty Bay referee Les Thomas on his communication and the excellent tone set for the match.

A delighted Lasenby said: “It was a very tough game — we weren’t expecting anything less. And we’re not just stoked to have made the final, but to be hosting it, too.”

by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
Published: July 24, 2018 3:55PM