Moutere, Renwick head for final showdown
They may have taken different paths to get there, but Moutere and Renwick will meet in the Marlborough division one rugby title next weekend.
While Moutere produced an irresistible second half surge to comfortably overcome Central and book their berth in the decider, Renwick went toe-to-toe with Waitohi before gaining late ascendancy at Lansdowne Park.
The Magpies were the top qualifiers for the play-offs and underlined their favouritism with a 47-14 victory, scoring five tries to the Blues' one.
In many ways Renwick are the "feel good" story of the season, taking their mini-resurgence last year, after two winless campaigns, to a whole new level with their 29-20 victory over a gritty Tohis outfit.
Given the contrasting game plans of the two finalists, and the closeness of their previous encounters, a worthy final is in store at rugby headquarters on Saturday.
Renwick 29 Waitohi 20
The Green Machine may have gone into the first semifinal as slight favourites, given their qualifying position, but a highly-motivated Waitohi side presented a major hurdle.
And the Picton side began with a hiss and a roar. Within seven minutes first five Tim O'Malley had punished Renwick's discipline by landing two penalties to gain the early momentum.
However Renwick had also come to play and they underlined their attacking intent with the game's first try after 10 minutes. Co-captain Sam White surged through a tackle and several quick transfers allowed midfielder Kyle Marfell to cross the line. Kurt Schollum's conversion put them in front 7-6 and they immediately upped the ante, spreading the ball wide at every opportunity and using the offload to good effect.
However, despite their monopoly of the ball and territory, the points would not come. Instead it was Waitohi who, against the run of play, scored next. Renwick's desire to keep the ball alive let them down, a rushed infield pass being intercepted by Waitohi right winger Taraiasa Wara who sprinted away to score.
O'Malley's conversion put the Tohis back in front 13-7 before Renwick had the final say before halftime, winger Regan Marshall stepping neatly inside the cover defence after quick hands had created space for him on the left.
Schollum converted to allow his side a 14-13 edge at the break.
Whatever was in Waitohi's oranges at halftime worked quickly as they immediately regained the lead in the second spell. O'Malley ran hard at the line and cut through, feeding Wara who sped away for his second.
Again, Renwick did not wait long to respond. Five minutes later flanker Cody Weir surged over in the corner after a combination of accurate passes and a timely injection of pace from fullback Glen Ballam.
A Schollum penalty soon after put Renwick back in front, 22-20, then with 15 minutes to go they opened up a decisive, and ultimately final, margin when halfback Chris Bolton scored their fourth try.
After clever inter passing had stretched Waitohi's defence from side to side, Marshall made a half gap before feeding the lively Bolton close to the line.
Schollum's conversion allowed Renwick a nine-point advantage which seemed barely enough with 15 minutes to go, especially when their outstanding winger Kavekini Tabu was binned two minutes later for tackling a player in the air.
Waitohi responded and looked likely to score. O'Malley attacked the line then replacement centre Filipo Ligaliga spilled the ball when over the line, but the Green Machine held firm, taking advantage of their scrum ascendancy late in the second spell to wind down the clock.
They say "who dares win" and, on that premise, Renwick deserved their victory. Bolton, Tabu, Marfell, Marshall and Ballam spearheaded their attacks as they shifted the ball wide at every opportunity. Weir, White, Schollum, No 8 Rusiate Saukuru, plus replacements Ti'i Paulo and Quinn Harrison-Jones made their presence felt both on attack and defence.
First five Tim O'Malley was at the heart of the Waitohi effort, along with Stefan Roguski, Wara, Jack Evans, Ofa Folau and Rocky Leofo.
It has been a harrowing, testing year for the Tohis and their effort on Saturday underlined the Picton club's resolve.
Moutere 47 Central 14
The Magpies looked the most convincing of the two finalists, putting away a disappointing Central outfit with an all-round display of power and clinical finishing.
It started well for Central who took advantage of Moutere's ill-discipline to dominate the first 20, fullback Mitch Smith landing three penalties, before Magpies' kicker Jordan Newman, who had a superb day from the tee, got Moutere on the board.
Constant stoppages saw the game meander through the middle stages of the first half before the Magpies sudenly burst into life. A break down the left by Blake Parata allowed centre Johnny Ika to score the game's first try, then, five minutes later, they were in again, prop Jordan Hart unstoppable with a pick-and-go close to the posts.
As the sides turned at the break the danger signs were flashing for Central, especially when two more Newman penalties within 10 minutes of the restart pushed Moutere to a 23-9 advantage.
The Blues mounted a solid comeback but, when they knocked on a potential try-scoring pass after 55 minutes, their best chance of getting back in the game had evaporated.
A Matt McCormick try soon extended Moutere's lead and, although Blues' first five Robbie Malneek produced a superb individual effort soon, the margin had become too wide and the Magpies were certainly not finished scoring.
Late tries to Parata and Vernon Fredericks, who exhibited his full range of talents, including a couple of telling kicks, merely rubbed salt into the wound and increased confidence levels heading into next week.
Fredericks, Baxter Wilson, Luke Scott and Mike Curry led the way up front for the Magpies, along with front rowers Lockie McCormick, Jack Best and Hart. Ben Finau was a ball of energy behind the scrum, Newman directed play well while Ika, Parata and Junior Filipo always posed problems out wide.
Malneek provided much of the spark for the Blues, who got good mileage out of Jesse MacDonald, Reyne Volavola and Braden Stewart among an out-played forward pack. Halfback Trance Poa distributed well while midfielders Onolevu Temo and Timoci Tavatavanawai had little space to work in, thanks to their opponent's stiff defence.
Saturday was a memorable day for the Moutere clubas two other sides, apart from the division one team, qualified for finals.
The division two final will be fought out at Lansdowne Park next week between the unbeaten Moutere side and College Old Boys who downed Central and Renwick respectively on Saturday.
Moutere women will also feature in a final next week, having seen off Waimea Old Boys women 46-12 at Lansdowne Park on Saturday. The Tasman women's final venue is yet to be confirmed.
Division one semifinal scores
Renwick 29 (Kyle Marfell, Regan Marshall, Cody Weir, Chris Bolton tries, Kurt Schollum 3 con, pen) Waitohi 20 (Taraiasa Wara 2 tries, Tim O'Malley 2 pen, 2 con). HT: 14-13 Renwick
Moutere 47 (Johnny Ika, Jordan Hart, Matt McCormick, Blake Parata, Vernon Fredericks tries, Jordan Newman 4 pen, 4 con, Aisea Halo con) Central 14 (Robbie Malneek try, Mitch Smith 3 pen). HT17-9
Division two semifinal scores
College Old Boys 15 Renwick 7; Moutere 45 Central 24
Tasman women's semifinal
Moutere women 46 Waimea Old Boys women 12 (Moutere to play Marist in final)