Waitohi breaks run by Nelson to take trophy

PETER JONES
Last updated 11:43 30/06/2014

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Bayleys Tasman Trophy champions Crafar Crouch Waitohi broke a seven-year drought when they proudly lifted the symbol of Tasman club rugby supremacy aloft at Picton's Endeavour Park on Saturday.

Since the competition began in 2007, it has been dominated by teams from the other side of the Whangamoas. But settling on a suitable competition hasn't been plain sailing. The trophy format has been changed more times than a politician's mind, various options tried and rejected.

In 2007, the brainchild of the Tasman Rugby Union's director of rugby Todd Blackadder, it was played as a knockout competition, involving the top four sides from each side of the hill. Harlequins were the only Marlborough side to win a match as Nelson took out the inaugural title.

In 2008 the now-amalgamated Riwaka club were the victors in a format which involved the top sides from each province playing off. Again Harlequins were the Marlborough representatives, but were forced to default the title play-off.

In 2009 and 2010 the Tasman Trophy was played as a provincial challenge, teams from each side of the hill squaring off according to their ranking after local competition with every match carrying competition points. Nelson Bays dominated, winning 12-2 in 2009 and 10-2 a year later. Amid often heated discussion, the Tasman Trophy was not contested in 2011. Marlborough clubs voted not to participate due to the compacted nature of the season in World Cup year.

But it was back in 2012, again in a new format. This time it was contested in two pools, squeezed between rounds of local club play. Nelson beat Marist in the final.

Last season it was again played in two pools, Central flying the flag for Marlborough teams by reaching the semifinal, where they lost 10-24 to Nelson, who went on to shade Wanderers 18-13 in the final.

In 2014 the Tasman union adopted an extended, league format which meant each of the six premier sides from both sides of the hill played each other over an 11-week season, with no final, the title being decided on accumulated points.

In the early rounds Nelson sides dominated, the exception being Waitohi who continued on their winning way after taking out the first round Marlborough competition.

But slowly the Marlborough sides began to find their feet, Central bouncing back from a 38-80 loss to Waimea to move into contention while Harlequins have become much more competitive after being hammered 10-81 by Nelson.

Four defaults have marred the latter stages of the competition but, with 66 matches being played overall, that is probably to be expected as late-season attrition kicks in.

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Most agree that some form of interaction among club sides from both provinces is imperative for the progression of rugby in Tasman. Whether the 2014 format is the right answer to the puzzle is a matter for the Tasman rugby hierarchy to decide. Although it is obviously not a perfect solution, given the late season hiccups, perhaps it is time to resist knee-jerk changes and give clubs, players and spectators time to become familiar with the format.

- The Marlborough Express

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