Chock and Rush dominate at Dallison
By Jared Smith
Craig Clare, Vereniki Tikoisolomone, Dallison Park. What more needs to be said?
Tasman Tanning Premier’s defending champions Waverley Harvesting Border have booked their third consecutive trip to Cooks Gardens after pulling away from a brave but out-gunned Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist, 39-11 in Saturday’s 1st vs 4th semifinal.
Ultimately scoring six tries, including Tikoisolomone taking his tally to a dynamic 23 in 11 games with a hat-trick, Border overcame a rough start where they got on the wrong side of referee Ben Lourie’s whistle, climbing from 8-6 to scoring back-to-back tries inside the last ten minutes before halftime.
Eager to impose themselves without Semi Vodosese, who withdrew from the game to spend time with family after the death of his mother in Fiji, Border’s re-jigged loose forward combination of 30th birthday boy Angus Middleton, Kieran Hussey and Cody Wickham eventually took control around the fringes.
Hussey especially had a strong game with some good carries, while Middleton twisted through tacklers near to the line to keep up his side’s impetus.
With regular fullback Nick Harding only going to come off the bench if necessary due to a minor leg injury, Clare took on all the tactical and goal-kicking responsibilities, and by the third quarter, had his side in full control of the territory, while a tired Marist were making errors on their carries after a battle in the furnace of the packs.
Losing both reserve forward Dale Pene and prop Viki Tofa to the sin bin in close succession for rough play did not help their chances either.
Nonetheless, in their first semifinal in four years, Marist never gave up – keeping the scoreline under 40 points while having the last say on the scoreboard with a well worked try.
Looking to win their 15th straight home game and no doubt expecting rivals Byford’s Readimix Taihape in the final, Border has improved their scrum work, the pack delighted when they forced a handful of turnovers.
“Reasonably decent, I suppose, quite frustrating to watch – especially that first half an hour – probably a little bit of nerves as well, not quite trusting the system,” said coach Cole Baldwin.
“But once we got that sorted, we were pretty good.”
Baldwin agreed Hussey had stepped up.
“I thought all our loose forwards did well – him, Cody Wickham and Angus, as well as our whole forward pack.
“The scrum’s getting stronger and stronger, we’ve been working on that for a team next week, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
While there was a palpable sense of pleasure around the park as word spread that Taihape had been upset by Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau, Baldwin has been to Cooks Gardens enough times as both a player and coach to know that no game can be taken for granted.
“Kaierau’s a good side, so it’s going to be very interesting. They tend to hold onto the ball for long periods, so we’ve got to be disciplined around that breakdown area.”
Marist coach Travers Hopkins was already looking to the future at fulltime and what it meant for his side to finally be back in the Premier playoffs.
“I said earlier in the week we knew it was going to be a challenge coming up here, they’ve set the standard all season.
“At home, they had a lot of things going for them. But we didn’t have anything to lose, and we showed a lot of fight, right to the end.
“A lot of teams probably would have shut up shop after being 20-odd points behind, but credit to our guys, they stuck at it.”
If Marist have lacked for anything over these past few years it’s continuity – constantly rebuilding their squads under different coaches – but with end-of-season reviews coming up, Hopkins is hoping everyone will be back in 2022.
“Some guys are obviously getting older. But for our young guys, first touch of semifinal rugby, I think it’s good, it’s encouraging, and I just hope we carry on building on that.
“If the club will have me, I’d love it. I just think the club needs someone with a bit of stability, and hopefully I’m the guy they see in that role.”
After Border winger Tom Symes jogged out first for his 100th game, his side struggled to get clear of their half as eagerness for turnovers led to penalties, although Marist had their own nerves with loose passes from the set piece.
Eventually Border were pinged in front, and young Marist first-five Rangi Kui slotted the penalty in the 10th minute.
Marist shut down Tikoisolomone’s first real chance, but got offside in the midfield, meaning an easy three for Clare, and on their next attack, Border’s wingers swapped sidelines as Symes came into the backline to attack one corner, before the home side shuttled swiftly back the other way and Tikoisolomone was beat his man to dot down.
The visitors kept their heads up, as after a big run from hooker Jack Yarrall, Border again infringed in front and Kui narrowed the gap to 8-6 in the 25th minute.
A Marist high tackle defending a surge at their line gave Border a 5m scrum, and although Hussey initially bobbled picking the ball off the back, he recovered and had Middleton with him to drive over.
Marist needed to get into halftime no further behind, but both the Tikoisolomone’s – Vereniki and brother Ranato – busted through the middle, offloading back and forth to each other, to reach the posts, where Border recovered from a couple of loose ruck passes for lock Toby Lennox to drive through and score.
Following the break the visitor’s defence was holding on grimly, skipper Brad Graham producing some big tackles, but with Pene sent to the sin-bin after Border had already got an infringement penalty, Clare changed his plan to take the three and went to the sideline – where after driving from the lineout, Middleton forced his way over on his second crack at the line.
Losing Tofa six minutes after Pene left meant a 13-man Marist were never going to hold back Border, and sure enough Hussey attacked the blindside and did a flick offload for Tikoisolomone to show good balance to reach out and plant the ball right by the far corner flag.
Proving he’s not just all about speed and footwork, Tikoisolomone then attacked the angle from a scrum win and dragged three defenders with him for the last 10m to get the ball down, as a blowout threatened at 39-6 in the 65th minute.
But with Border making a handful of subs from an already light bench, Marist had the chance to earn some consolation, and did so as reserve prop Gordon Karaitana and Tofa produced some nice offloads for reserve winger Cajun Botica-Teki to get wide and fend his way through to the tryline.
Border 39 (V Tikoisolomone 3, K Hussey, T Lennox, A Middleton tries; C Clare pen, 3 con) bt Marist 11 (C Botica-Teki try; R Kui 2 pen). HT: 20-6.