Finals clashes wide open

STU PIDDINGTON
Last updated 05:00 13/07/2012

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The business end of the Hamersley Cup senior rugby competition has thrown up two intriguing finals encounters tomorrow.

Competition leaders Harlequins play defending champions Celtic for the Beri Cup and more importantly automatic qualification for the grand final.

The loser faces the winner of the sudden-death game between third-placed Waimate and fourth-placed Temuka.

On form Celtic is favoured to go straight through on the ability of their backline despite losing their first-round match against Harlequins.

Harlequins have an experienced, gnarly forward pack but offer little out wide apart from explosive centre Maile I'Ongi.

Prop Timaru Tafa will be a key player for Harlequins, along with No7 Eric Smith at the breakdowns.

Tafa, a strong ball carrier, has averaged a try a game this season and is the side's top tryscorer with 14.

Celtic's backs could well carry the day if they can get front football.

Fijian speedster Aporosa Tabulawaki appears to be an excellent late addition, scoring hat-tricks on his last two appearances while Ben Faasalava has been an inspirational choice at centre, since being moved from the wing, while Patolo Tupuola is also in good form.

Harlequins coach Steve Foster believes discipline and team work will be critical for his side.

"We will need to win good ball up front and our set phases."

Foster said it was also important for his side to enjoy the moment. He rated Celtic's outside backs as the biggest threat. "They are good right across the park."

Celtic coach Nigel Walsh wanted his side just to carry their good form from recent weeks and step it up another gear. "Harlies are a threat, especially their dominant forward play and pick and goes.

"You have to respect Eric Smith around the park and Timas [Tafa] and Sam Vea are good ball carriers."

The sudden-death semi at Manchester Park is hard to pick.

Temuka have been a mixed bag this season, playing some excellent footy then at times being almost awful.

The Magpies will be boosted by the timely return of Mark Tutton, who is listed to play at halfback.

Waimate also have their talisman back, with centre Jared Matthews fit to play. His combination in the midfield with Simon Proudfoot will be important as they can bust almost any backline.

Up front Temuka may have an edge but there will be little in it.

The Magpies have a good loose forward trio of Semisi Taseka, captain Dylan Sawers and the ball running Joeli Kotobalavu.

Waimate have the ability to scramble well and despite his size, No7 Richard Ford is a ball winner at breakdowns. He will be well supported by Blair Morris and captain Dion Glennie, so the battle of the loosies will be important.

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Waimate started the season very brightly but have been below par in the past few weeks so whoever wants it most are likely to come out victors at Manchester Park.

The bottom four sides play for the Scott Cup, with top seed Mackenzie likely to be too good for Geraldine at home while the Old Boys, Pleasant Point clash could go either way.

- The Timaru Herald

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