The 2019 Marlborough club rugby title will end up in familiar hands.
Next weekend, Waitohi and Central will meet in the final of the sub-union division one competition, having repelled the efforts of two pretenders to the local rugby throne.
Neither Renwick nor East Coast, the beaten finalists on Saturday, have ever had their hands on the premier crown and, despite their best efforts in a Lansdowne Park double-header, they will have to wait at least another season to do so.
The top qualifiers for the play-offs, both boasting a string of grand final victories, showed composure and big match experience to book a date at the “big dance” – Central beating East Coast 30-16 and Waitohi battling past Renwick 29-22.
In the early game Central trailed a fast-starting East Coast side 10-11 at halftime, but notched 20 unanswered points in the first 28 minutes of the second spell to book a place in the decider.
It would have taken a brave punter to suggest the Coasters would lose by 14 points after their start to the match. On the back of a dominant scrum, raking kicks from out of defence, hard straight-running and well-timed off-loads they controlled the first 35 minutes, pushing out to 11-0 but, more notably, missing several opportunities to build a larger advantage with the stiff wind at their backs.
Eventually first five Mitch Smith landed a penalty to get the Blues on the board, before one of the game’s turning points. A Myles Hamilton penalty goal attempt drifted wide, then Central cleverly regained possession form the ensuing 22 drop out, sweeping onto attack.
Minutes later they had their first try, flanker Hayward Kaloni scoring after a lineout drive and suddenly just a single point separated the sides at the break.
Soon after oranges, an early Smith penalty put the Blues in front, before two superbly-constructed converted tries plus another Smith three-pointer, established an advantage the Coasters were never going to run down.
Flanker Braden Stewart was outstanding for Central, along with Smith, whose accurate passing and goal-kicking was a highlight, winger Nigel Satherley, midfielder Jake Cresswell and hooker Jesse MacDonald.
East Coast got good value from lock Jordan Judge, flanker Jake Collins, centre Ben Filipo and fullback Sam Westenra.
Central skipper Reyne Volavola said he “had plenty of faith in the lads to come back” and felt they used the breeze well in the second 40.
“We basically turned around and started doing to them what they had been doing to us. The try just before halftime made a huge difference.”
The second semi turned into a tighter affair.
Waitohi dominated a large percentage of the first half, going out to an 18-3 halftime advantage. However three second half tries to Renwick closed the gap to two points in the dying minutes, Renwick missing a conversion that would have levelled the scores.
Then it was the crew from Picton who had the final say, a last-gasp try to No 8 Taimi Fangatua sealing the deal for the Tohis, who finished the match with 14 players after flanker Rocky Leofo was sent off for throwing a punch with 10 minutes to go.
The experience of inside backs Jimmy Giles, Corey Bovey and Tim O’Malley was a key for the Picton-based lads, plus the elusive skills of fullback Fetuli Paea.
However their outstanding player was prop Duane Aholelei, whose rampaging runs created the momentum Waitohi fed off in the big moments.
Renwick showed courage and skill to get back into a contest that looked almost gone, their best being skipper Josh Holdaway, Quinn Harrison-Jones, Owen Soper, inside backs Jan Hasenlechner and Dion Narayan, plus midfielder Michael Vaeno.
Waitohi captain/coach Jimmy Giles suggested the half time break arrived at the wrong time for his side, who ended the first 40 camped on Renwick’s line.
“Maybe it was just that Renwick flicked a switch, but we also made some bad decisions and they clawed it right back in the second half.
“I did consider [the possibility of] extra time but I reminded the boys that we had been in the same situation before and come through … we know what we can do if we just hang onto the ball and that showed at the end.
“All credit to Renwick though for playing the second half so well.”
Meanwhile, on Lansdowne Park 6, the Moutere women’s side earned a chance at a three-peat in the Tasman division one competition with a 44-22 win over Wanderers.
The Magpies women took out their semifinal convincingly, the match being moved to an adjoining field after an ambulance was called to attend to an injured Wanderers’ player.
In the other semi, Waimea Old Boys downed Motueka High School 50-19 to book a final date with Moutere in Nelson next weekend.
Preceding the three semifinals was a thrilling match between the Crusaders Junior Knights under-18 side and their Chiefs counterparts.
The Crusaders apprentices eventually prevailed 26-24, holding on desperately in the final stages.
Men’s division one semis
Central 30 (Hayward Kaloni, Braden Stewart, Josh Chapman tries, Mitch Smith 3 pen, 3 con) East Coast 16 (Sam Houston, Steve Crudis tries, Myles Hamilton 2 pen). HT: 11-10 East Coast.
Waitohi 29 (Tim O’Malley, Duane Aholelei, Taimi Fangatua tries, Corey Bovey 4 pen, con) Renwick 22 (Michael Vaeno, Quinn Harrison-Jones, Ty Bampton tries, Michael Dillon 2 con, pen). HT: 18-3 Waitohi.
Tasman women’s semis
Moutere 42 (Pippa Andrews 5, Courtney Stewart 2, Aiesha Tepuia tries, Andrews con) Wanderers 22.
Waimea Old Boys 50 Motueka HS 19
Regional age group
Crusaders Junior Knights 26 (Eto Bainivalu 2 tries, Ollie Lewis 2 con, 3 pen, Nico Barton pen) Chiefs under-18 24 (Jacob Kneepkens, Jack Parker, Te Paea Cook Savage, Thor Manase tries, Kneepkens 2 con). HT: 12-10 Chiefs.