Hawke's Bay Tui give Emma Jensen fairytale finish

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It's the first time since the inception of the Championship in 2017 the top qualifier hasn't won the decider.

Emma Jensen holds the Kiwi record for the most national provincial matches with 139 since 1999. It was the 44-year old deputy headmaster at Hastings Girls’ High School's final match. Her 57 minutes in the final was typically assured, the glue in a huge season of growth for the Tui. 

In the 74th minute the hosts were ahead 20-17 when they lost No8 Kristi Kerr to the sin bin. Hawke’s Bay marched inside the Otago 22 and prop Gemma Woods scored an historic try underneath a pile of bodies to put the visitors ahead.

Hawke’s Bay would hang onto their lead grimly, Otago fullback Kiana Wereta fumbling the ball just five-metres shy of the Tui line with numbers to her right on the siren.

Hawke’s Bay are always hearty but their discipline and improved fitness was the most notable feature in flipping a 22-44 loss to Otago in the first-round. Woods started the season as a loose forward but was so out of shape she was redirected to prop where she blossomed.

By contrast Otago lacked the accuracy which has defined their efforts in 2022. A number of chances were blown.

Hawke’s Bay started strongly and wing Jamiee Robin crossed in the seventh minute.

Besides a Krysten Cottrell penalty in the 20th minute, Otago dominated the middle period of the first-half with tries to centre Cheyenne Cunningham and openside Leah Miles. The pair have been among the most eye-catching prospects in 2022.

Hawke’s Bay centre Amelia Pasikala is a powerhouse. Her rampaging runs built momentum for the Tui, but her best touch was the slight of hand in the 33rd minute to create a try for wing Leilani Hakiwai.

Both first-fives, Cottrell and Otago general Sheree Hume, were a strong presence. Otago halfback Georgia Cormack has played for Australia and was a most welcome presence in New Zealand.

Hawke’s Bay Tui 24 (Jaimee Robin, Leilani Hakiwai, Gemma Woods tries; Krystell Cottrell 3 con, pen) Otago Spirit 20 (Cheyenne Cunningham, Leah Miles tries; Georgia Cormick 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 17-17.