Canterbury hosts Hawke’s Bay who were thrashed by Counties in the Heat’s best display of 2023.Waikato passed Auckland into second place with a win over 2024 Championship-bound Wellington. North Harbour and Taranaki’s Championship seasons ended at the hands of higher-ranked quarter-final opposition. Unbeaten Manawatū will host Tasman in one semi-final with Northland at home to Otago in the other.
Canterbury: 27 (Georgia Ponsonby 2, Martha Mataele 2 tries; Hannah King 2 con, pen) Auckland: 24 (Chryss Viliko 2, Sylvia Brunt tries; Ruahei Demant 2 con, pen). HT: 10-21
Canterbury avoided defeat to Auckland for the first time since 2017 with a clinical second half rally. The visitors held the ball for 21 phases and more than two minutes to terminate time. Earlier Canterbury employed their lineout drive to stifle Auckland and Black Ferns hooker Georgia Ponsonby rumbled over for two tries. The winning penalty was kicked by first-five Hannah King in the 61st minute after two misses.
Initially, Auckland controlled possession and forced Canterbury to make 99 tackles in the first half. Loosehead prop Chryss Viliko was outstanding scoring two tries, her first in traffic beside the posts while her second was from a rampaging 20m run. Auckland constructed 15 phases before a try to Black Ferns second five Sylvia Brunt.
Canterbury winger Martha Mataele completed a regulation finish from an overlap on the right side and two minutes later seized upon a spillage in midfield and dashed 45m. There was a disappointing number of handing errors but some noteworthy performances. For Auckland No.8 Elizabeth Moimoi had a storming game. Unsurprisingly captain Alana Bremner led the charge on the blindside for Canterbury, her break positioning Canterbury for the winning penalty.
Locks Emma Dermody and Laura Bayfield were equals to their Black Ferns opposites Eloise Blackwell and Maia Ross. Openside Holly Wratt-Groeneweg was a pest at the breakdown and will grow to be a real presence with ball in hand.
Otago: 39 (Jamie Church 3, Sheree Hume 2, Cheyenne Cunningham, Leah Miles tries; Georgia Cormick 2 con) North Harbour: 13 (Moana Courtenay try, Grace Freeman 2 pen, con) HT: 19-6
A robust defensive display coupled with punishing counterattack earned Otago their place in the championship semis at the expense of winless North Harbour.
In the first half, the visitors enjoyed two-thirds of possession as Otago racked up over 130 tackles and avoided a concession of a try despite spending six minutes anchored inside their own 22. Openside Leah Miles relished the heavy workload tackling with consistent venom, the forefront of Spirit resistance. Centre Cheyenne Cunningham opened the scoring after six minutes. She picked up a ball that had been knocked down by the Hibiscus 5m out and scampered across the line to lead 7-0.
North Harbour's first five Grace Freeman slotted a penalty, but clumsy handing would be a deficiency for the Hibiscus. Jamie Church boosted her season try tally to ten with a hat-trick. Her first try was perhaps the best in a spectacular afternoon. She picked up the ball on halfway and blazed clear down the left wing. Fullback Sheree Hume was equally instrumental. The first of her two tries from fluid running and a dummy to Church right before halftime hurt North Harbour as Otago turned with a 19-6 advantage.
North Harbour, at last, capitalised on their, opening the second half scoring. Centre Moana Courtenay bumped off two defenders in a bullying charge to cross in the corner. Otago lifted their intensity at 19-13 with North Harbour denied the consistent wealth of possession they enjoyed earlier.
Keely Hill was illusive in midfield, Church ruthless with a sniff. Concerningly Hume hobbled from the field late in proceedings.
A minute silence was held before kick-off at Forsyth Barr Stadium in remembrance of former Otago president Graeme Renton and Otago rugby chairman and sports historian Ron Palenski, who died recently. The Hibiscus has lost six consecutive matches and unfortunately repeated 2020 in having a winless season.
Counties Manukau: 63 (Mererangi Paul 3, Ruby Tui 2, Joanna Fanene-Lolo, Grace Gago, Jaymie Kolose, Utumalama Antonio, Ngatokutoru Arakua, Ti Tauasosi tries; Hazel Tubic 4 con) Hawke’s Bay: 26 (Tamai Edwards, Nicolette Adamson, Jamiee Robin, Kahlia Awa, Ti Tauasosi tries; Krysten Cottrell 3 con) HT: 38-12
Hawke’s Bay missed a bundle of tackles from the opening kick-off reception as Counties rampaged from 22 to 22. This was a precursor of what was to come as the Heat produced their best display of the season. Black Ferns Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu and Hazel Tubic made their first appearances for Counties in 2023 and added considerable smarts and vibrance.
In the forwards, Harano Ti Ringa, Grace Gago, Rebecca Burch, and Joanna Fanene-Lolo had storming matches and chalked up considerable meters with robust carrying. Manu Sina international Ti Taiasosi returned after suffering an injury in the first round. The player of the match was undoubtedly Heat first-five Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali. In addition to a try-saving tackle she directly created four tries with four precise kick-passes. It was a masterclass of superior skill as the kicks were short, long, high, and low. A third of all kicks Subritzky-Nafatali has made this season have been regained by the Heat. She has plenty of variation with her passing and can run too. Ruby Tui has 27 tries in 30 first-class matches and Mererangi Paul looked assured in the unfamiliar position of centre.
Hawke’s Bay has won just over half their lineouts this year and fell off far too many tackles to be competitive. Second-five Jamiee Robin runs hard and direct. Openside Hope Hakopa, a regular fixture on Petone TV in Wellington, defended stoutly, and Kahlia Awa was positive with her intent despite her forwards often retreating.
Tasman: 45 (Iva Sauvira 2, Fiaalii Solomona, Neve Anglesey, Tamara Silcock, Avau Filimaua tries; Cassie Siataga 5 con) Taranaki: 20 (Hannah McLean, Janelle Dhedadig, Louise Blyde tries; Laura Claridge con, pen). HT: 26-3
Tasman won the game in the first half enjoying 79% of possession and scoring four of their seven tries.
The lineout drive was imperious and responsible for two tries while a charge down and sloppy passing by the Whio was a source of more profit for the Mako. Wingers Fiaalii Solomona (eight tries in six games) and Iva Sauvira saw plenty of ball, but it was first-five Cassie Siataga who ran amok with an array of impressive kicking, passing and running.
The forwards used their greater size smartly and openside Tamara Silcock produced a veterans knock. To their credit Taranaki never gave up and only just lost the second half 17-19. Second five
Hohaia Kahu was rigorous, openside Hayley Gabriel is the first player to make more than 100 tackles this season. Her high was 23 against North Harbour the previous weekend. Halfback Iritana Hohaia is a class above with her energetic flair. She set up two tires, one with a 75m run.
Waikato: 31 (Ashlee Gaby-Sutherland, Carla Hohepa, Lela Ieremia, Kennedy Simon, Leata Puni Lio tries; Ariana Bayler 2 con, Sammie Wood con) Wellington Pride: 29 (Harmony Kautai 3, Lavinia Lea, Monica Tagoai tries; Tamara Ruaporo 2 con)
Wellington completed an FPC season for the first time without a win but saved their best for last pushing Waikato to the brink at FMG Stadium in Hamilton.
Down 31-29, Wellington had revived their fading prospects when Monica Tagoai latched onto a Tamara Ruaporo grubber and went over in the 78th minute. Wellington retrieved the restart and marched into the Waikato 22; momentum snuffed out by a Chyna Hohepa turnover.
Wellington made an outstanding start attacking with vibrance and accuracy. Tagoai proved lethal and former Hawke’s Bay winger Harmony Kautai caught fire with three tries – two from runs longer than 20m. Prop Lavinia Lea has been a real find for the Pride in 2023 and
Jackie Patea-Fereti, celebrating her 100th first class match, was typically industrious. The only try through the backs for Waikato was scored by Carla Hohepa from a scum move. The second five has 30 tries in Mooloo colours.
The hosts were at their best when strangling Wellington up front. Two tries came from lineout drives and the other two from very direct ‘pick and goes’ close to the ruck. Openside Kennedy Simon was exceptional, Leomie Kloppers is an underrated lock and there was considerable impact from the bench. Halfback Ariana Bayler delivered nicely and was a threat with her snipping dashes.