Crafar Crouch Waitohi are the 2014 Bayleys Tasman Trophy champions.
On a day of high emotions at their new Endeavour Park headquarters, the Picton side claimed the symbol of senior club rugby superiority in the Top of the South with a grinding 33-8 win over BNZ Partners Harlequins, doing the business with a match to spare. For the first time in its eight-year history, the Tasman Trophy will spend the summer on this side of the Whangamoas.
Unbeaten through 10 rounds of the competition, Waitohi maintained their eight point advantage over closest challengers, Waimea Old Boys and Biddy Kates Central, who will now battle for second.
Both the chasing sides kept themselves firmly in contention on Saturday with bonus point wins. Central overcame a gritty Kahurangi outfit 25-5 at Lansdowne Park, while Waimea stretched their legs with a 92-7 victory over TvA Awatere in Seddon.
The fourth match of the day was played in Nelson, Stoke upsetting Marist 22-20 at Greenmeadows.
Earlier in the week, Kirk Nicholas Builders Renwick and Moutere were forced to default to Nelson and Wanderers respectively.
Waitohi 33 Harlequins 8
Although they got the job done, this wasn't one of Waitohi's best performances of a stellar season so far. But it did contain all the factors that have made the men from Picton an unstoppable force so far - the dominant, bullying scrum; the in-your-face defence; the impact off the bench; the ability to stick to a game plan and execute it ruthlessly; plus the leadership that holds the side together under pressure and enables it to grind out victories.
Harlequins came to play and tackled their hearts out, but were never able to take control of the match. The home side struggled for continuity, and at times lacked structure, but still strung together five tries as, like a yellow and black boa constrictor, they squeezed the life out of the visitors.
The Quins arrived with an intent to play the match at pace, the appearance of former Marlborough skipper George Millar at centre offering more attacking options. The visitors were first on the board, a Brandyn Laursen penalty after five minutes underlining their early dominance, although their scrum was under pressure from the outset.
It took only five more minutes for that pressure to tell. The Quins were shunted off their own scrum ball on their 22, Waitohi's power-packed number eight Manu Mataele charged towards the line and offloaded to flanker Kenneth Karena who grabbed the first five-pointer.
Mike Hillgrove missed the conversion but nailed a close range penalty after 17 minutes to move the home side in front 8-3.
The departure of in-form English open side loosie Steve Uren through injury meant a reshuffle in the Quins' ranks, Mark Fa'asi entering the fray as both sides became guilty of trying to force the pass, resulting in a series of set pieces, which suited the home side just fine.
Their next try came in typical style. After 25 minutes Waitohi's pack got into their work near the Quins' line, driving relentlessly forward through props Ross Geldenhuys and James Hounslow before Henry Evans decided to join in, the right winger stealing the forwards' thunder to crash over from close range.
Although the match lost its shape leading into the break, Waitohi increased their advantage to 16-3 with another Hillgrove penalty and headed for the sheds well in control.
But the Quins were still in touch and started the second spell promisingly. Helped by a string of penalties they forced good field position and had the Tohis' defence stretched on several occasions. A golden opportunity on the left was spurned when lock Pierre Vienings dropped the ball with the line open and Waitohi were able to clear, through Mataele who surged off the back of the scrum.
The big number eight was replaced soon after by Makos utility Vernon Fredericks who made an immediate impact, cutting through the defensive line with ease and kicking ahead to force Quins to scramble back.
Waitohi's third try came as a result of quick thinking. Jayden Goodyear, a busy and elusive fullback, kicked deep and pressurised Quins defender Laursen who tapped the ball over the touchline, a decision he instantly regretted. Goodyer quickly regained possession and threw the ball in to Karena, who returned the favour to send his fullback over in the corner.
At 21-3 the writing was on the wall, but Harlequins weren't about to give up. Some committed and brutal defence, led by Fetu Ieremia, Koli Tau'alupe, Vaea Samasoni and Fa'asi ensured Waitohi would have to work for every point, and it took a slick scrum move to post their fourth try. Halfback James Giles and number eight Les Ivamy combined well to hand Fredericks the final pass as the score climbed to 26-3.
But Quins quickly bounced back, showing how dangerous they could be, given space, when Millar won a kick and chase on the right wing to dot down for his side's consolation try.
But fittingly, Fredericks put the icing on the Tasman Trophy cake in the final minutes, slicing through on the angle for his second after latching onto a superb inside pass from the impressive Karena.
Both Karena brothers, Kenneth and lock Daniel, were major players. Their aerial ability, at both kick off reception and lineout time, was impressive. But they were just a couple of heroes among a team that plays as a team.
The front row of Geldenhuys, hooker Chris Goodyer and Hounslow, plus replacements Bevan Moody and Bradley Hide, set the platform. Locks Karena, James Ivamy and Mark Hodren provide the grunt while the loosies - Les Ivamy, Fredericks, Kenneth Karena and Mataele - form a combination that has power, pace and game sense.
Behind the scrum Jimmy Giles cracks the whip, his partnership with Hillgrove improving all the time, while second five Sanualio Sakalia is the find of the season. He offers serious go-forward and defends resolutely. Centre Jayden Waters is a talented allrounder, as is utility Filipo Ligaliga, while wingers Evans and Naki Taliauli offer differing skills, but are equally effective. Fullback Goodyer is a major asset at the back with his pace and vision.
Coach Tonga Taumoefolau said Saturday's match had special significance. "We had a call before we went out of the shed today and it was all about Matthew Burgess, who's battling cancer. He's been a stalwart of the club, from under six to premier. The boys respect him immensely and we have a fundraiser tonight for him. This game was all about him, just to make sure we gave him something back. That's why we sent him up to get the trophy. He may not have been the world's greatest player, but he's the world's greatest team-mate."
Harlequins can hold their heads high after a committed effort, especially on defence. Their pack hoed into their work, led by Ieremia and Samasoni, while locks Bruce Muir and Vienings hit plenty of rucks. Our wider Chris Tau'alupe and Millar formed a solid midfield, while Laursen tackled well in the first channel. But it was Waitohi's day and, it's back to the drawing board for Quins if they harbour hopes of winning the Marlborough title in three weeks time.
Central 25 Kahurangi 5
The Blues positioned themselves to pick up second place in the Tasman Trophy with a bonus point win against a gritty Kahurangi outfit.
Knowing they were out of trophy contention Kahurangi arrived in Blenheim with a willingness to give the ball plenty of air, resulting in a free-flowing, lively encounter. Central were also in the mood to chase tries, determined to pick up five points and stay in touch with Waimea on the table, but with just one try in the bag by halftime, a paucity of possession and a slender 8-5 lead, they had a long way to go in the final 40.
Although tries to fullback Jeremy Manning, a second touchdown to mobile lock Dan Crockett and a final five-pointer to substitute Riki Winitana got the job done, it was far from easy against a speedy Kahurangi back division and a forward pack that took the game to the home side at every opportunity.
Central head coach Steve Crockett was pleased with the maximum points, and the way his side performed their set pieces. Again Rawiri Tamati wore the number nine jersey with distinction, Nick Malins on the left wing looked likely, Manning took control at the back and blindside flanker Francis Roebeck continued his good form, alongside Makos hooker Quentin MacDonald who stepped up another level in his second match back from Europe. But it was the lightly-built Crockett who stood out, his huge work rate and capacity to be in the right place at the right time a hall mark.
Although well beaten on the scoreboard, Kahurangi coach Rhys Wells was "pretty rapt" with the way his side went, given they were struggling for a front row all week and had only four subs. He made special mention of prop Sam Brooks, who "toughed it out" for the side after being injured last week.
Their attitude was to run the ball from anywhere, but they struggled to get quality front foot ball. "When we did get some front foot ball the backs created havoc," said Wells. "We only scored one try but created four or five other opportunities."
Despite losing first five Mike Wells after 15 minutes with injury, players such as youthful fullback Andrew Knewstubb, who moved into the first five role, midfielders Hana Corbett-Burrows and Kenny Eggers, plus winger Stein Schreiber made the visiting backline unit a dangerous proposition.
Waimea Old Boys 92 Awatere 7
"They were too good, too clinical and well-drilled . . . just too good for us today," said Awatere head coach Glen Blackmore after his side were handed a 14-try rugby lesson by a slick Waimea outfit, warming up in style for their top of the table clash with Waitohi next week.
Hat-tricks to Makos halfback Billy Guyton, midfielder Sam Franklin and winger Tevita Tui helped the score rise to an almost embarrassing level as the visitors sliced and diced the hometown defence.
Blackmore was positive about his forwards' effort, particularly at scrum time, but said "when you get beaten by 90-7 there aren't too many positives to take away."
"Waimea were very good in contact," added Blackmore, "this meant they were able to deliver quick ball and we were just exposed out wide far too often."
As expected, Waimea coach Mark Milne was happy the efforts with most of his charges but singled out loose head prop Cailam Gibson, blindside flanker Jeff Lepa and winger Tui for special mention.
The visitors were expertly guided around the park by Guyton, who showed his class and experience, while Roden turned in a superb exhibition of goalkicking to convert all but three of the tries.
Best of the home side was first five-eighth Nemani Raiwalui who defended well and made a good job of the halfback's role in the second spell when Ben Finau left the field with injury. Centre Manasa Naiyagi picked up Awatere's consolation try midway through the second spell after a James Brown break.
Stoke 22 Marist 20
Attitude and total commitment were the main ingredients in Stoke's staggering 22-20 upset over Wakatu Hotel Marist.
Stoke were magnificent for 60 minutes of the contest as smothering defence, three well-taken tries and a sense of unity effectively cut off Marist's air supply. Marist eventually responded in a frantic final 20-minute burst as tries to No 10 Seta Sauira and replacement lock Tyler McKinnon-Stevenson gave them a chance of a late draw.
Marist fullback Jackson Harvey had scored 179 points prior to the game, but he couldn't land the final two that counted on Saturday as his final angled conversion attempt fell beneath the cross bar to signal the end of the match.
- The Marlborough Express