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Ngati Porou East Coast in final

Sky Blues to host Mid Canterbury in Cup decider.

For only the third time, Ruatoria is to be rugby’s grand stage with the Ngati Porou East Coast Kaupoi cast as its Sky Blue defenders.

From 1.05pm this Sunday — a decade after their 29-27 Meads Cup win against Wanganui and 23 years since Victor Taingahue’s drop goal gave them the first of two consecutive National Provincial Championship third-division titles (18-15 versus Poverty Bay) — the Hosea Gear-coached NPEC will host Mid-Canterbury in the Lochore Cup (fifth to eighth placings) final of the 2022 Heartland Championship.

The Sky Blues hit red-hot form in beating Horowhenua-Kapiti 37-30 in their semifinal at Levin Domain on Saturday.

Coast captain and halfback Sam Parkes and Mid Canterbury’s MVP (most valuable player) right wing Louis Northcott each scored hat-tricks on a day when almost every 50-50 pass stuck to the visitors’ willing hands.

First five-eighth Carlos Kemp was again in sublime touch for the Coast with the boot. He landed two penalty goals and three conversions for 12 invaluable points.

The Kaupoi have won 17 of their 43 rugged clashes with Horowhenua-Kapiti and head into the Lochore Cup final with reason to be confident, as they could not have bounced back harder, or faster, from the 53-point drubbing at the hands of Meads Cup (top four) champions South Canterbury at Timaru a fortnight ago.

Mid-Canterbury have won 15 of 20 games against the Sky Blues and have powerful motivation to excel in what for them will be an away final — that motivation being a 36-34 loss to the Coast on August 27.

Coast head coach Gear said Saturday’s win was “an outstanding effort from each and every one of our guys”.

Out of my way: Ngāti Porou East Coast blindside flanker Jorian Tangaere steamrolls Horowhenua-Kapiti first-five Kody Edwards during their Heartland fifth-to-eighth-place semifinal match on Saturday in Levin. The Coast won 37-30 and booked a spot in the Lochore Cup final against Mid Canterbury in Ruatoria on Sunday. Picture by Darryl Crawford

“The forwards worked hard and Carlos directed us well against a good side who put us under a lot of pressure.

“I’m proud that we withstood that pressure, as Ryan (Shelford) and his boys beat Thames Valley with a penalty on full-time last week.”

Captain and lock Shelford, who won his 100th cap for the ‘Nua in their season-opener against NPEC, said: “It was a good hard battle, the way that a semifinal or final should be.

“We pushed them for 80 minutes but now we congratulate Ngati Porou East Coast and wish them all the best heading into the final.”

Chris Wilton, head coach of Horowhenua-Kapiti, said the Coast controlled the game for long periods and were “deserving winners with their great defence and physicality”.

In the sides’ first meeting this season, ‘Nua scrum-anchor Scott Cameron dominated proceedings in his chosen field. On Saturday, he, loosehead prop David McErlean and hooker John MacNeilage found that Joe Royal’s move from 1 to rake for Hakarangi Tichborne and Perrin Manuel’s presence at tighthead provided them with a sterner test. The scrum count was 10-5 to the home team, lineouts went 13-6 their way and the penalty count was 11-5 against the Sky Blues.

Hawke’s Bay referee Stu Catley, who ran a tight ship at the teams’ first meeting, was once again calm and consistent as regards decision-making. He managed to keep all 30 players on the field in a close contest.

Parkes won the toss and chose to kick off while Shelford opted to play with a gentle easterly breeze on an overcast day in front of the biggest house — 500 — at the Domain this season,

Kemp opened the scoring with a 36-metre penalty goal, 15m off the right touchline in the fourth minute of play.

His opposite, Kody Edwards, responded in kind, midfield from 30m back at the quarter-hour mark, to level it 3-all.

In the 17th minute, from an attacking lineout 10m into ‘Nua territory on the left touch, Royal found No.8 Faifilli Levave. Over six phases of play, the Coast pushed right and came back left and eventually Royal slipped a beauty of pass to Kemp as he whirred down the left side, then flicked the ball one-handed inside for Parkes to score behind the posts . . . it was rugby to behold.

Kemp converted for 10-0 but seven minutes later, ‘Nua centre Darren Falaniko scored rather too easily for the Sky Blues’ taste.

From an attacking scrum six metres into the Coast’s half, they nudged the visitors back a metre before halfback Trent Reti went right with a short ball to left wing Willie Paia’aua. He found second-five Tyler Tane, who gapped the Coast with a right-foot step before Falaniko, on the angle, made good in the corner. Edwards converted from the sideline for 10-all.

Two minutes later, the Kaupoi were at it again. Cameron and Co gave them a nudge on the Sky Blues’ own scrum ball at halfway and Reti hounded Parkes. The captain got a ball away to right wing Junior Time-Taotua, who shocked the opposition with a burst of speed. Though class second-five Joe Wadman was to his left, Time-Taotua passed instead to lock Khian Westrupp and the 20-year-old titan went six mighty metres, then slid one more metre and reached over to score.

The try was not converted and the Coast led 15-10.

In the 33rd minute, Edwards kicked his second penalty to reduce their deficit to 15-13.

The Kaupoi had slipped their bridle and were now playing with confidence.

Left wing Verdon Bartlett, who had twice spied and eyed gaps himself, quickly threw the ball into fullback Tutere Waenga 30m from the NPEC goal-line. Waenga got Kemp on his right, took the return pass heading down the middle of the park and Wadman scored to the left of the posts.

It was a stunning try which Kemp converted for 22-13, but it drew a sharp response.

In the 37th minute, the ‘Nua won their own lineout ball seven metres from the left corner at the Coast’s end.

Over six phases, they pressed to the right with Northcott gathering a loose ball on the bounce as play broke down. He had nowhere to go until he doubled back around a hodge-podge of teammates and would-be tacklers to score 15m in from the corner.

It was an amusing, mystifying and infuriating scene depending on one’s point of view. No conversion followed and the Coast went to the break 22-18 ahead.

NPEC scored their fourth try 10 minutes after the resumption.

Westrupp won an attacking lineout 11m into the’ Nua half on the left touch. Wadman took the ball on the crash, Parkes cleared the ensuing ruck right to centre Api Pewhairangi, who put Waenga into a gap midfield and Parkes, backing up, scored with a superman-like flying dive next to the posts for 27-18.

Kemp converted for 29-18.

The Coast were not done. In the 57th minute from an attacking scrum 10m into the ‘Nua’s half, Parkes sent Wadman at Edwards’ backs again. Shortly after, Kemp put a dangerous grubber-kick through, an attempted clearance from reserve fullback Te Atawhai Mason was charged down then Tane missed touch with a kick and Kemp ran the ball back at them.

He put a chip-kick down the right touch, the ball bounced, he leapt and tapped the ball back to Parkes to complete his try hat-trick in the corner for 34-18.

Kemp’s conversion missed.

Horowhenua-Kapiti dug deep and in the 62nd minute from a centre-ground scrum 13m into their own half, No.8 Joel Winterburn went right to reserve halfback Jack Tatu-Robertson, who went through Tane to Northcott, who dotted down in the right corner – 34-23.

Tatu-Robertson could not land the conversion from wide out.

In the 69th minute, Kemp kicked a vital penalty goal for the Coast. It put them 37-23 ahead, meaning the hosts had to score two converted tried to level it.

In the 73rd minute, Horowhenua-Kapiti went over for the last try of the fixture.

From a five-metre attacking scrum a metre to the right of the posts, Tatu-Robertson went right to Mason, who ran in Northcott for his hat-trick.

Tatu-Robertson converted from close to the touchline to close it to 37-30.

Horowhenua-Kapiti threw everything at the visitors but the Kaupoi held out for seven minutes for the win and to make their first final in 10 tough years.