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Point just pipped at post
Missing a handy conversion on fulltime cost Pleasant Point automatic entry to the Hamersley Cup grand final.
The 28-27 loss to Celtic means the defending champions get the week off while Pleasant Point must get up again to face Harlequins, who cruised past Mackenzie in their sudden death match-up.
Two late tries gave the Rams' 28-18 some respectability on the scoreboard but not turning possession and territory into points in the first half hurt Mackenzie.
At Pleasant Point Domain, Celtic were never behind but were lucky to survive after centre Michael Newman dotted down beside the upright, only for Hayden Dwyer to hook the conversion wide.
Pleasant Point coach Gavin Miller said his side's failure to convert pressure into points cost them.
"We played well at times and scored some well-constructed tries. It would have been good to get a week off but we are still alive."
Celtic coach Nigel Walsh said it was typical semi-final rugby.
"It was a good game, both teams pushed to the wire. There were plenty of mistakes but that happens with teams going for it.
"We missed a few kicks at goal but they missed more."
The win keeps alive Celtic's hopes of five titles in a row.
Pleasant Point scored four tries to three but Celtic's Willy Wright proved more reliable with the boot.
Centre Newman got a double for Point with his midfield partner John Peeters also getting across the line along with Damien O'Sullivan.
Locks Andrew Garton and Luke Brice impressed for Pleasant Point along with loose forward Grant McKerchar while Newman was the stand-out back.
For Celtic hardworking prop Matt Fetu was among his side's best along with first-five Tanu Suavine and wing Rob Jordan.
Fetu, centre Patolo Tupuola and halfback Wright scored tries for Celtic.
In the Scott Cup (bottom four) play-offs as expected Waimate were way too good for Temuka, winning 53-14, to book a place in the final while Geraldine will face the Magpies after beating Old Boys 41-5.
Mackenzie turned up at Alpine Energy Stadium knowing history was against them, having never beaten Harlequins in Timaru.
For 39 minutes they were in the game but an excellent try on the stroke of halftime gave Harlequins a flattering 15-5 lead and the Rams could not muster much in the second stanza.
Harlequins got the game away to the perfect start, inside two minutes, with strong running second-five Paula Fifita brushing off poor tackles in a 40m run and when he was finally brought down just short of the line No 8 Sam Vea was on hand to score.
A piece of individual brilliance from Mackenzie fullback Josh Morton got his side going.
He caught Harlequins napping when he drop-kicked a 22m restart to himself and went 50m but the support was cut down short of the line.
A minute later, however, lock Andrew Scarlett burrowed over to tie the scores.
Mackenzie then dominated but could not add to their total and a break-out by Harlequins saw one of their players held up over the line and shortly afterwards halfback Scott Norton landed a penalty.
Then a magic run by left wing Maile I' Ongi down the touchline set up first-five Mike Hende's try.
Norton's sideline conversion gave his side a 15-5 advantage at the break.
The Rams then closed the gap to seven with a penalty to Morton, but that was as close as it got.
Harlequins then started to dominate and two Norton penalties gave them breathing space and then a try to Fifita after a Mackenzie clearance was charged wrapped up the game 28-8.
Mackenzie rallied with two tries to replacements Jarrad Blackler and Jack Wade in the final three minutes but the contest was already over.
In the end the Harlequins' pack was just too good with Vea putting in an excellent performance, well supported by lock Maikara Deer and prop Telusa Latu.
Fifita and I'Ongi were dangerous in the backs, always testing the Mackenzie defence.
Mackenzie tried but Harlequins just kept coming at them, and wore them down.
Pleasant Point, being the higher qualifier, will host Harlequins at the Domain on Saturday.
- © Fairfax NZ News