Marlborough teams face an uphill battle to make their presence felt in the Bayleys Tasman Trophy premier rugby competition if the first round of inter-provincial games is any indication.
Four matches were played between teams from opposite sides of the hill and Nelson combinations came out on top each time - some with embarrassing scorelines.
The biggest surprise was the 80 points Waimea Old Boys put on Biddy Kate's Central, considered one of the stronger sides from Marlborough and a Tasman trophy semifinalist last season. The scoreline of 80-38 suggests defence was at a premium throughout.
At Lansdowne Park, BNZ Partners Harlequins took on the unbeaten Wanderers and, in the first half, showed how to play against such highly-rated opposition. But despite holding a 24-7 lead closing in on halftime, the Quins' defence crumbled in the second spell as Wanderers racked up 36 unanswered points to prevail 48-24.
In the only Marlborough derby played Crafar Crouch Waitohi maintained their unbeaten run, making it two wins from two appearances in the Tasman Trophy, with a grinding 24-14 win over a brave Kirk Nicholas Builders Renwick at Endeavour Park, Picton.
In Nelson, Marist posed a half century against TvA Awatere, winning 50-21 at Trafalgar Park, while Kahurangi disposed of Moutere 31-3 at Riwaka. The Nelson Bays derby saw Nelson beat Stoke 33-19.
Wanderers 48 Harlequins 24
This was the proverbial game of two halves. The only problem for the home side was that Wanderers made more of their 40 minutes of dominance to rattle up six tries and 36 unanswered points.
But the first half belonged to the Quins. Playing with a slight northwest wind at their backs, they took the game to their more vaunted opponents.
Harlequins were on the scoreboard after just two minutes, a Richard Tau'alupe bust on the right setting up a penalty chance for prolific first-five Brandyn Laursen which he knocked over to take his total to 102 points for the season.
But Wanderers quickly bounced back, a 40m run by centre Sione Holani coming close to producing the first try of the match, before a Quins turnover on their line snuffed it out. Ominously, the home side's scrum was often in reverse gear, No 8 Vaea Samasoni superb in coping with scrappy ball behind a rapidly-retreating pack.
After 16 minutes Wanderers were on the board, winger Fletcher Mathews scooting over after a slick scrum move and a switch of play. Jesse Pitman's conversion made it 7-3 before centre Chris Tau'alupe inspired Quins' reply. His twinkling feet set up a series of pick and goes, with Falaula Fotu coming in from the wing to dive over.
Laursen converted to put Quins back in front and they extended their advantage a minute later when midfielder Connor Hirini scooped up a dropped pass near halfway and dashed 45m to score, Another Laursen conversion gave Quins a 17-7 lead.
The home side extended their advantage after 32 minutes, as Wanderers made a series of errors. Winger Matt Duggan took a short ball from a scrum and powered towards the line. From the resulting ruck halfback Daniel MacDonald stretched over and Laursen's conversion handed the home side a 17-point advantage.
On the stroke of halftime Wanderers got their second, the inevitable scrum pressure leading to a turnover which saw lock Ben Douglas drive over from a goal line ruck. Pitman's conversion missed but Wanderers were just warming up.
They stayed on the field in a huddle at the break, and entered the second stanza in a different frame of mind. A Trael Joass touchdown after three minutes started their comeback, another four minutes later to inspirational loose forward and Makos veteran Alex Ainley continued their momentum and, with two Pitman conversions, the visitors had hit the lead 26-24.
Suddenly Wanderers had found another gear, the introduction of former Marlborough Red Devils star Sam Gibbens, hooker Dan Perrin, Makos prop Ciua Halanukonuka, halfback Dwayne Polataivao and powerful No 8 Tone Ngshiu from the bench only adding to their firepower.
Quins had no answers as further tries to Halanukonuka, rugged loosie Steven Soper, replacement winger Jed Palmer and Mathews, with his second, rubbed salt into the wound.
Best up front for Harlequins were the Taufa brothers, Atu and Willie, Samasoni and Koli Tau'alupe, while MacDonald and Laursen continued to forge a handy partnership. Fotu, Hirini and the Tau'alupe brothers had their moments as Quins played with passion and skill in the first 40, but ultimately a lack of depth and set piece stability proved fatal for the home side.
Wanderers took some time to find their feet, a concern perhaps, but showed they have a potent mix of experience and youth. Ainley, replacement Gibbens, Soper and loosehead prop Mike Lattin were their best.
Waitohi 24 Renwick 14
Although the home side came out comfortable winners in this one, they were given a tough battle by a gritty Renwick outfit.
Both sides scored first half tries, the opener to Waitohi flanker Jack Evans from a series of pick and goes, then visiting prop Milton Butler crossed the line in a similar fashion to leave the scores tied at the break.
Renwick went ahead 8-5 with the first of three penalties to first-five Hayden Howard before the home side kicked into gear. Tries to impressive winger Sanualio Sakalia, Jimmy Giles, who alternated between halfback and first-five, and loose forward Les Ivamy in the final 30 minutes clinched the win for Waitohi and a four-try bonus point.
But coach Tonga Taumoefolau wasn't particularly impressed with his side's efforts.
"It was a tough game. I've just done the stats on it and it doesn't look too good in our favour . . . too many individual mistakes. The penalty count was 15-5 against us. Just real silly mistakes that stopped us getting out game going," Taumoefolau said.
An arm injury to prop Bevan Moody also took the gloss off the victory, the youngster leaving the field 10 minutes into the final 40. South African prop Ross Geldenhuys came on as a replacement and made an immediate impact, as did the introduction of Makos utility Vernon Fredericks, who played well in the final 20 minutes after returning from injury.
Taumoefolau was particularly impressed by the workrate of both his wings, Henry Evans and Sakalia, who went looking for work and chased well. Up front he mentioned the efforts of the versatile Ivamy who lifted his side after a slow start and carried the ball well.
Mark Stewart, Renwick's stand-in coach was happier with his side's performance. "It was a good hard battle. It wasn't a bad game. When [Waitohi] brought Geldenhuys and Fredericks on in the second half that turned the game. They started getting more go forward," he said.
Stewart mentioned flanker George Kenny, his side's player of the day, and brothers Hayden and Kyle Marfell as standouts.
WOB 80 Central 38
Waimea ended their three-match losing streak in emphatic style with a comprehensive 80-38 win over Central at Jubilee Park.
Winger Tevita Tui cashed in on Waimea's free-running approach to score four of his team's 12 tries, No 10 Connor Trathen completing a hat-trick and mobile lock Tevita Cavubati also grabbing two first half tries as Waimea took a decisive 33-14 lead into the break.
However, it was Marty Banks' conspicuous presence at fullback that became a determining factor in Waimea's attacking play. Released from Hurricanes' duties for the weekend, Banks' spacial awareness, tactical kicking and penetrative running became key elements in Waimea's ability to frequently outmanoeuvre a scrambling Central defence.
Central were well beaten on the scoreboard but continued to fight, also emphasising their own scoring credentials to finish with six tries, three to lively centre Jake Cresswell. Central's forwards created problems for Waimea close to the line, showing enough application to create further tries for lock Te Hau Anderson and loosies Riki Winitana and Jesse MacDonald.
But apart from a strong performance from second five-eighth Onolevu Temo, Central didn't have the ability to sustain any attacking momentum as Waimea continued to punch holes in an often fragmented defensive line.
Marist 50 Awatere 21
Marist ran in eight tries, four in each half, as they overwhelmed Awatere at Trafalgar Park.
Shaun Begg further enhanced his claims to the Tasman Makos' backup halfback vacancy with a fine attacking performance, rewarded by three tries. Begg's effective sniping around the fringes wasn't the only concern for Awatere's pressured defence, with midfielders Devon Scott and Latham Jones also constant dangers.
It wasn't a fluent performance by Marist by any means as they continued to infringe at the breakdowns. Prop Nicolai Heard and hard-running centre Manasa Nayagi scored Awatere's first-half tries, while lock Hamish Blackwell scored their only second-half try. Awatere fullback Maleli Bula impressed with some incisive running.
Kahurangi 31 Moutere 3
Kahurangi celebrated their first win in four games and collected a bonus point for their troubles against Moutere at Riwaka.
It was only their third win of the season, but Kahurangi finally showed some rewards for their attacking endeavours after leading just 10-3 at halftime. Winger Stein Schreiber scored all of Kahurangi's first-half points with two tries as Moutere's defence worked hard to absorb the attentions of an equally committed home side. Moutere's only points came from a penalty to first five-eighth Wavell Tetai.
Kahurangi's improvement in ball security translated into 21 unanswered second-half points, although Moutere still showed enough set phase urgency, particularly through the effective lineout work of Mike Curry, to keep Kahurangi's forwards honest. Locks Curry and Josh Sutherland and wing-fullback Greg Blick were the pick of a determined though ultimately outgunned Moutere outfit.
Nelson 33 Stoke 19
Galbraith Group Nelson had things humming nicely against Stoke in the first half at Greenmeadows before falling off the treadmill in the second.
Nelson had looked well on their way to a resounding win after scoring five first-half tries, two of them to pacy fullback Mitchell Scott, to take a handy 33-7 lead into the break but never scored again after the restart as Stoke finally began to find some counters, eventually scoring all the second-half points through tries to flankers Stu Tunnicliff and Martyn Young.