The 2019 E’stel Tasman Trophy rugby final will be fought out between Nelson clubs, Marist and Waimea Old Boys.
The top two qualifiers after round robin play ensured they would meet in the competition decider next week after dispatching their semifinal opponents in emphatic fashion on Saturday.
Top qualifier Waimea Old Boys downed Marlborough club Waitohi 37-22, while Marist, who qualified second, accounted for Wanderers 71-34 at Trafalgar Park.
Waitohi played into a stiff breeze at Jubilee Park and were relatively happy to hold the home side to a 20-3 halftime advantage. WOB led 13-3 for most of the first 40 before bagging a seven-pointed just before the break.
Turning with the wind at their backs the Tohis were confident of getting back into the game, but a Waimea try soon after the break saw them slip to 27-3 behind.
However, the Picton-based crew showed the fortitude that got them to the semis, closing the gap to 27-15 before Waimea pulled away again. A late Waitohi try narrowed the final scoreline but the damage had been done.
Player/coach Jimmy Giles said that, while he was disappointed to lose, he was “proud as punch” of his charges.
“We gutsed it out pretty well in the first half, into the wind, but whenever we made a mistake they would kick us back into our own territory. Then they took their opportunities well.
“At halftime we were still confident of closing the gap but they scored next. We worked hard to get back into it, getting within reach, but they scored again to close it out.
“Overall, Waimea played pretty well but so did we. We didn’t do a lot wrong. We were just starved of the ball at times. We could have folded at 27-3 down but we showed plenty of guts to fight back.”
Giles mentioned backs Saia Tokai, Corey Bovey, Stefan Roguski and Tuli Paea as having good games, along with forwards Rocky Leofo, Taine Cragg-Love, plus front rowers Manu Mataele, Taimi Fangatua and Losi Malimali.
Meanwhile, Nelson’s “Green Machine” ran riot at the park. After dropping their only game of the season to Renwick last week, Marist responded in ruthless fashion, running in 11 tries to send a warning shot over Waimea’s bows.
Marist struck early, fullback Lote Saulekaleka exploding onto a rogue kick, beating three defenders and linking up with speedster Jamie Spowart for the opening try.
Saulekaleka set up the second with another scything run, then first five Sam Briggs burst through the line to give Marist all the early momentum.
The fullback’s sensational start continued as he crashed over himself moments later for a 17-0 lead with just 15 gone.
A fourth soon followed, Briggs dancing through the defence to bag a brace with less than a quarter of the game gone.
Spowart made another scintillating break before linking up with halfback Cleve Barrell who went in for Marist’s fifth, then Barrell burrowed over for his second as Wanderers continued to fall off tackles.
Skipper James Hawkey then bagged their seventh before Wanderers gave their supporters something to cheer about, Fletcher Matthews scurrying down the sideline to put his side on the board before the break.
Marist responded immediately however through hooker Sam Moli who scored their eighth first half try and brought up the half century to cap a completely dominant 40 minutes.
Further tries to lock Hopo Taufa and Hawkey blew the score-line out even further before winger Naki Saumaki pulled one back for Wanderers who surged late.
They were awarded a penalty try before Ducati Morrell-Hopa, Nino Peniamina and Dan Mclauchlan scored consolation tries as defence took a back seat in the last 10.
Appropriately though, Marist had the final say, through a try to prop Teu Sami.
Waimea Old Boys 37 Waitohi 22 (Jimmy Giles, Euygene Taylor, Duane Aholelei tries, Corey Bovey 2 con, pen). HT: 27-3.
Marist 71 (Sam Briggs 2, Cleve Barrell 2, James Hawkey 2, Sam Moli, Jamie Spowart, Lote Saulekaleka, Hopo Taufa, Teu Sami tries, Hawkey 8 con) Wanderers 34 (Fletcher Matthews, Naki Saumaki, Ducati Morrell-Hopa, Nino Peniamina, penalty try, Mclauchlan tries, Matthews 2 con).
The Marlborough sub union competition begins on Saturday, with points earned in the Tasman Trophy section of the season being carried forward.
Waitohi lead the way with 30 points, followed by East Coast on 25, Central 24, Renwick 11 and Moutere 8.
Four of the five teams will contest the sub-union semis on July 13, with Waitohi already assured of a place in the play-offs.
On Saturday, Central play Moutere at Lansdowne Park and Renwick meet Waitohi at Renwick. Both games kick off at 3pm. East Coast have a bye.