BNZ Partners Harlequins edged closer to confirming a semifinal berth in the Marlborough premier club competition with a thrilling 25-23 victory over Moutere at Lansdowne Park on Saturday.
The match, which doubled as a Bayleys Tasman Trophy encounter, was vital to both sides' chances of reaching the playoffs and turned into a nailbiter, marked by two superb long-range tries and the accurate boot of Harlequins' Brandyn Laursen.
In Picton, the home side came from behind at the break to force a win and maintain their unbeaten record. Biddy Kates Central led 18-12 after 40 minutes before Crafar Crouch Waitohi, driven home by their impressive forward pack, racked up 24 unanswered points, winning 36-18.
The third match in Marlborough was between TvA Awatere and competition leaders Wanderers, in Seddon.
The home side battled hard but Wanderers ran away with the match 73-12, running in 11 tries in a dominant display from both backs and forwards.
In other Tasman Trophy matches on Saturday, Kirk Nicholas Builders Renwick narrowly avoided conceding a ton against a rampant Marist outfit, going down 16-95; Waimea Old Boys beat Nelson 23-17; and Kahurangi tipped over Stoke 29-12.
Harlequins 25 Moutere 23
Moutere made a superb start to this match, a game they had targeted to propel them into semifinal contention.
The Magpies applied all the early pressure, only lineout inaccuracy denying them reward.
But after 10 minutes they got it right, setting up a driving maul which ended metres from the Quins line before a series of pick-and-goes had tighthead prop Lockie McCormick crash over.
Three minutes later they were at it again. A break from the back by lightfooted fullback Johnny Ika provided field position and from another lineout they drove to the line, McCormick again the benefactor on almost the same patch of grass.
Both conversions were missed but the Magpies were flying, their scrum on top and their loosies, led by Francis Smith at eight and openside Mike Curry, enjoying their work behind a dominant tight five.
But this was to be a classic "half of two halves".
A Laursen penalty from 40m began Quins' revival after 20 minutes and 10 minutes later they levelled the scores. Ula Fotu and Willie Taufa made surging runs to get their side into the Moutere red zone and, from the resulting scrum, a slick back move created quick second-phase ball for Laursen who stepped through several feeble tackles to score.
His conversion tied it up but Moutere surged back.
McCormick was denied his third try by inches, held up over the line as the pressure mounted, and Quins attempted to hang on until the break. After turning down several penalty attempts, the Magpies decided to take the points in the final minute of the half, Wavell Te Tai doing the honours.
The introduction of Mark Faasi for No 8 Vaea Samasoni at the break added impetus to the Quins' efforts and they gained early control. A weaving run by centre Chris Tau'alupe came close to creating a try before Fotu dotted down in the 50th minute.
From a ruck under the posts, halfback Dan MacDonald fired a long pass to the wing, who scooped it up off his laces to score.
But, as was the pattern in this match, Moutere came back immediately, their left wing Tailah Love benefiting from a Smith pop pass on the blindside to dot down.
The Magpies' joy was tempered by the departure of veteran lock Warrick de Waal, who had been impressive after a long layoff.
A Laursen penalty after 65 minutes locked the scores up again, before Quins scored the try of the match with 10 to go. From a turnover, they moved the ball wide inside their 22, finding space on the right. Wing Richard Tau'alupe and replacement fullback Gavin Morrison drew and passed well, sending English flanker Stephen Uren on a 30m gallop to the line. Laursen's conversion gave the home side a 25-18 lead but the Magpies weren't done.
Their final try came from a Harlequins attack in the Moutere 22.
Faasi was prominent before Laursen charged at the line.
He was wrapped up in a maul from which Moutere centre Regan Marshall emerged with the ball, catching the defence napping as he set off on a 90m sprint to the line, dotting down 10m to the right of the posts. However, Te Tai's opportunity to level the scores swung to the left of the upright, and Harlequins were able to play out the final few minutes without conceding points.
Moutere will take away two points from the match after bagging four tries but will feel they let this one get away. Best on show for the Magpies was young lock Josh Sutherland, Curry, Smith and McCormick up front with Ika, midfielder Paul Kahui and Marshall impressing in the back unit.
Uren was outstanding for the Quins, his high workrate and physicality at the breakdown creating turnovers. Faasi looked short of a gallop but impressed over 40 minutes, while skipper Aaron Smith toiled hard and led his side well. MacDonald and Laursen were again at the heart of most that was good for the Quins while the Tau'alupe brothers, Chris and Richard, showed plenty of dash on attack.
Waitohi 36 Central 18
At halftime, the battle of the two top-placed sides in the Marlborough competition looked evenly poised but a few well-chosen words from Waitohi coach Tonga Taumoefolau and a step up in forward intensity had the home side score 24 unanswered points to assert their superiority.
An early Gareth Smith penalty followed by a try to centre Jake Cresswell had the Blues ahead 10-0 before halfback James Giles scored from a quick tap to get the home side started.
Another Smith penalty was followed by a superb team try to Daniel Crockett, set up by fullback Ra Tamati and wing Willie Umu, as the Blues approached halftime with the advantage at 18-5.
But Waitohi had the final say, prop James Hounslow crashing over for a converted try from a series of pick-and-goes.
Sadly for Central, it was a sign of things to come.
It took only two minutes of the second spell for the Tohis to get their noses in front, No 8 Manu Mataele scoring off the back of a Les Ivamy break. Jayden Waters converted and added a penalty 10 minutes later to put his side ahead 22-18. The home side's next try was scored by Filipo Ligaliga but the hard work was done before he got possession, a series of charges at the line drawing in Blues defenders until the ball was spun wide to the unmarked centre.
Ross Geldenhuys drove the final nail into Central's coffin with Waitohi's fifth, again the result of concerted forward pressure.
Taumoefolau was quick to praise Central's contribution.
"It was a bit of a ding-dong.
"Central brought a physical game in the first half, and we were a little bit flat.
"There was a few words sprayed and a bit of colour coming out of my mouth at halftime, which is a bit unusual, but they soon found their feet in the second half."
He admitted his side again battled to make rapid adjustments.
"We have struggled with some of the refereeing interpretations, trying to adjust from week to week, but our guys have just got to get over it and get on with it."
No 8 Les Ivamy was again a standout for Waitohi, his leadership a big factor when his side faced an 18-5 deficit nearing the break. Taumoefolau had praise for his whole pack - props Geldenhuys and Hounslow scrummaging superbly, alongside hooker Chris Goodyear, locks Kenneth Karena and James Ivamy and plus loosies Mataele and Vernon Fredericks.
The impact of Mark Hodren and Daniel Karena off the bench was also a big factor, the coach said.
Central coach Steve Crockett lamented "a game of two halves".
"In the first half we moved the ball well and our set-pieces were pretty good, then in the second half we probably won two scrums, if that. We just couldn't win ball and keep it.
"They capitalised on our errors, then continually breached the line through the forwards."
Hooker Jesse MacDonald and Cresswell were the Central standouts, along with fullback Ra Tamati and flanker Matt Gibson.
Wanderers 73 Awatere 12
Wanderers, the unbeaten Tasman Trophy pacesetters, did not take long to silence the car horns at Seddon, racing to a 47-0 halftime lead. Dominating possession, their potent mix of experienced, athletic forwards and speedy backs rattled up seven tries, six of them converted by first-five Jesse Pitman before the home side regained some lost ground in the second spell, scoring two tries of their own.
But the honours certainly belonged to the visitors.
"It wasn't a bad day at the office," said Wanderers manager Frazer Lochead. "The boys played very well, it was a well-disciplined performance." Midfielder Trael Joass bagged three tries, his pace and elusiveness proving hard to handle in the backline, along with openside flanker Blair Palmer and halfback Dwayne Polataivao, while Tone Ng Shiu at No 8 was "outstanding", Lochead said.
Awatere coach Glenn Blackmore said that while the score got away on them, it was a much better performance than his side turned on last week.
"It's hard to say this when you get beaten by seventy-odd points, but we played not too bad, the guys tried really hard, it was a vast improvement on performance, but when you miss tackles and make small mistakes against a well-oiled machine, you're going to pay for it, and we did."
Lock Stu Campbell and flanker Lui Finau scored for the Tussocks, Finau outstanding, according to his coach. Returning loosie James Brown also had a strong match as did the midfield combination of Ben Filipo and Manasa Nayagi, while prop Kurt Lindsay turned in his best game of the season.
Marist 95 Renwick 16
Halfback Jackson Harvey contributed a staggering 40 points as Wakatu Hotel Marist consigned Renwick to another crossover mismatch at Trafalgar Park.
Harvey's impressive tally included three of Marist's 14 tries in the home team's 95-16 rout, Harvey also landing 11 conversions after an early penalty success.
Flanker Dan Hytongue also scored three tries and No 10-wing Lote Saulekaleka two as Marist took a handy 36-6 score into the halftime break.
Marist added a further 59 points after the restart, including six tries, to come within one try of cracking the ton. There was little Renwick could do to counter Marist's irresistible attack, despite earning some late consolation through second-half tries to No 8 Amco Cassidy and young lock George Kenny. Although decisively outplayed, Renwick still got good value out of Kenny and flanker-lock Ethan Bartle.
Waimea OB 23 Nelson 17
Nelson handed over the Noel Barton Trophy to Waimea Old Boys on Saturday but the day was not a total loss for the Nelson club.
Only time will reveal the significance of Nelson's losing bonus point in their 23-17 defeat at Jubilee Park. While Nelson remain five points clear of Waimea on the Tasman Trophy points table, they are still also one point clear in the Nelson Bays championship standings - each with only two local derby matches remaining.
Still, it was a tough, uncompromising contest on Saturday, the difference ultimately resting on the success of the opposing kickers - Waimea's Marty Banks and Nelson's David Havili.
While Banks landed six penalties and missed only the conversion to returning fullback James Lowe's early second-half try, Havili contributed four penalties and missed with his two other attempts, including the conversion to wing Mitchell Scott's try eight minutes from time.
Kahurangi 29 Stoke 12
Kahurangi secured a maximum five competition points against Stoke at Greenmeadows.
They relied on a solid first-half forward effort to anchor their victory after two tries to blindside flanker Manu Parkin and a third to livewire No 7 Dan Crowther helped push Kahurangi to their handy 19-5 lead at the break.
Kahurangi's dominance at both scrum and breakdowns provided an important edge against a Stoke side that, despite struggling to find any adequate first half counters, still defended strongly throughout.
Tasman Trophy scores:
Harlequins 25 (Brandyn Laursen, Ula Fotu, Stephen Uren tries, Laursen 2 pen 2 con) Moutere 23 (Lockie McCormick 2, Tailah Love, Regan Marshall tries, Wavell Te Tai pen). Ht 13-10 Moutere.
Waitohi 36 (James Giles, James Hounslow, Manu Mataele, Filipo Ligaliga, Ross Geldenhuys tries, Jayden Waters 4 con, pen) Central 18 (Jake Cresswell, Daniel Crockett tries, Gareth Smith 2 pen, con). Ht 18-12 Central.
Wanderers 73 (Dan Perrin, Tone Ng Shiu 2, Dwayne Polataivao, Kerehama Barrett, Trael Joass 3, Riley Johnston 2, Siua Halanukonuku tries, Jesse Pitman 9 con) Awatere 12 (Stu Campbell, Lui Finau tries, David Pope con). Ht 47-0.
WOB 23 (James Lowe try, Marty Banks 6 pens) Nelson 17 (Mitchell Scott try, David Havili 4 pens). Ht 12-12.
Marist 95 (Jackson Harvey 3, Dan Hytongue 3, Lote Saulekaleka 2, Reuben Northover, Luke Collier, Liam Boshoff, Devon Scott, Latham Jones, Nathan Baxter tries, Harvey 11 cons, pen) Renwick 16 (Amco Cassidy, George Kenny tries, Cassidy 2 pens). Ht 36-6.
Kahurangi 29 (Manu Parkin 2, Dan Crowther, Lucuster Mati tries, Andrew Knewstubb 3 cons, pen) Stoke 12 (Jamaica Hume, Aaron Dempster tries, Kahu Tamatea con). Ht 19-5.
P W L D F A BP Pts
Waitohi 8 6 0 2 227 148 5 33
Central 8 5 2 1 237 168 3 25
Harlequins 7 4 2 1 209 170 3 21
Awatere 7 3 4 0 172 190 5 17
Moutere 7 2 5 0 160 186 5 13
Renwick 7 0 7 0 114 257 1 1
P W L D F A BP Pts
Wanderers 4 4 0 0 183 68 4 20
Waitohi 4 4 0 0 117 83 3 19
Marist 4 3 1 0 193 84 4 16
Nelson 4 3 1 0 155 65 3 15
Kahurangi 4 3 1 0 120 55 3 15
Central 4 2 2 0 151 170 3 11
Waimea OB 4 2 2 0 147 113 2 10
Moutere 4 1 3 0 65 93 3 7
Harlequins 4 1 3 0 96 207 1 5
Stoke 4 1 3 0 60 107 0 4
Awatere 4 0 4 0 81 207 2 2
Renwick 4 0 4 0 66 192 1 1
- The Marlborough Express