By Justin Miezenbeek
Te Awamutu Sports booked their spot in next year’s Premier grade with a comfortable 37-17 over Taupiri in a rain soaked semi-final at Albert Park, taking home the NZFP Trophy for winning the Promotion Relegation round in the process.
Both teams battled heavy underfoot conditions with the horrendous weather leading in, but Sports showed their Premier pedigree by playing controlled, sound defensive rugby without the ball then striking with ruthless precision when the opportunities presented.
After being guilty of starting slow in recent weeks, Sports scored in the opening minute when skipper Jono Armstrong caught the visitors napping with a grubber kick that was expertly accepted by fullback Josh Moorby. The side-line conversion from Evaan Reihana had Sports up 7-0 in the blink of an eye.
Taupiri are a tough side and Sports knew that getting an early try meant nothing without follow-up, and a penalty to Reihana spread the lead again before they went straight back on the attack, pivot Clayton Stewart catching the defence short out wide by putting boot to ball finding winger Awa Morris, who calmly collected the ball and offloaded inside to centre Api Mocekula who ran behind the post, extending the lead to 17-0.
They struck again when Stewart pounced on a Taupiri mistake, kicked ahead and won the race to the ball, the unsuccessful conversion still had Sports up 22-0.
Taupiri then took charge of the game, keeping the ball close to their big forwards but try as they might, could not break the back of the host’s defence, who carried the 22-0 lead into half time.
More of the same ensued in the second, with Taupiri controlling possession, throwing everything at Sports but unable to break through, the only scoring a long range penalty from Reihana to extend the lead to 25-0.
Taupiri finally found reward after another period of attack on Sports line, crossing in the corner, 25-5 the score now. Sports struck back immediately after a clearing kick was returned and found Mocekula in open spaces, brushing off the last tackle to score out wide and a 30-5 lead.
Taupiri picked up a penalty try after a collapsed rolling maul to make things interesting at 30-12 but again, were caught on their heels from an error that had Moorby run 40 meters to score and put the game beyond doubt at 37-12. A late try to Taupiri pulled them to 17 points but were well short of threatening a boil-over.
It was a true team effort but halfback Ryan McNeil stood out with a man of the match effort, keeping things tidy around the fringes in the trying conditions while Stewart was also integral in control around the park. The forwards did the hard yards, getting through a mountain of defensive work against a bigger forward pack in heavy conditions, while Moorby and Mocekula took their chances with two tries each.
Premier status already cemented, a somewhat anticlimactic Final takes place next week, against Morrinsville who tipped Southern United 10-7 in Tokoroa.