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Marist wins Tasman club rugby final in nailbiter

Marist wins Tasman club rugby final in nailbiter

Marist celebrates winning the Stuff Tasman Trophy after edging Kahurangi 20-18 in a tense club rugby final at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.
VICTORIA GUILD/STUFF
Marist celebrates winning the Stuff Tasman Trophy after edging Kahurangi 20-18 in a tense club rugby final at Trafalgar Park on Saturday.

Marist is the Stuff Tasman Trophy champion for 2021, after they overcame Kahurangi 20-18 in a fitting finale to the club rugby season on Saturday.

In stark contrast to recent weeks, the final was played in glorious conditions at Trafalgar Park in front of a large and passionate crowd of club supporters and the two sides did not let them down, going at each other all afternoon in a contest that swung in the balance all afternoon.

Kahurangi, who two weeks ago claimed the Nelson club title, appeared well on their way to adding the Tasman Trophy to its trophy cabinet, dominating the early possession and territory and immediately asserting its dominance at scrum time.

Yet, for all its early ascendency, Marist’s defence held firm. Its aggressive tackling kept its line attack, earning relieving penalties and forcing Kahurangi into errors, just as they appeared to create point-scoring opportunities.

Kahurangi lock Harry Curtis makes a break during the Stuff Tasman Trophy Final between Kahurangi and Marist at Trafalgar Park. Marist held on to win 20-18.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF
Kahurangi lock Harry Curtis makes a break during the Stuff Tasman Trophy Final between Kahurangi and Marist at Trafalgar Park. Marist held on to win 20-18.

That changed after 26 minutes when Marist’s Ra Witihira was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle. Willy Havili opened the scoring from the resulting penalty before Kahurangi cracked the game open six minutes later.

Prop forward Sam Matenga made a clean break, picking the ball up from the base of the ruck and charging down the middle of Trafalgar Park before off-loading to Louie Chapman who was pulled down just ten metres out from the try line in a desperate Marist tackle. Quick ball was moved left with Qori Gucake showing nice hands to deliver the final pass to Will Schmetz who dived over in the corner. Havili’s sideline conversion gave Kahurangi a deserved 10-0 lead.

That lead was nearly extended just three minutes before the break when Jan Lammers was freed down the right hand flank but desperate Marist defence again got the job done to keep the green and blacks within touch at the halftime break.

The second half saw little change initially. Havili’s educated left boot extended the Kahurangi lead to 13-0 with a second penalty goal but that only succeeded in bringing Marist to life.

8 minutes into the second half a brilliant piece of individual brilliance finally gave Marist’s supporters something to cheer about. Hoppo Taufa broke free to canter away and score under the posts and with Sam Briggs adding the extras from right out in front it was game on at 13-7.

Marist No 8 Taina Fox-Matamua was in inspirational form from the back of a scrum.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF
Marist No 8 Taina Fox-Matamua was in inspirational form from the back of a scrum.

Marist continued to build pressure, turning down a kickable penalty goal but in a role reversal from the first half it was Kahurangi’s turn to show its mettle on defence, holding out Marist for over 20 phases on its own goal line.

Briggs added a further penalty goal after 57 minutes to reduce the deficit to just three points with a quarter of the game remaining and that’s when the game really sparked to life.

With 16 minutes remaining, inspirational Marist No 8 Taina Fox-Matamua went close off the back of a Marist scrum before Caleb Havili burrowed over to give Marist its first lead of the contest. Briggs made no mistake from out in front to push Marist to a 17-13 advantage.

However, Kahurangi was never going to give up without a fight. Five minutes later they turned down a gift three points to set a midfield scrum, 25 metres from the Marist line. After earning another penalty, Willis Scott took a quick tap and charged to within centimetres of the line before the ball was moved right with Willy Havili delivering the final pass to Jan Lammers who dived over in the right hand corner to score and give Kahurangi back the lead at 18-17 with eight minutes to play.

Marist's strong first-half defence, such as this tackle on Kahurangi centre Levi Aumua, kept them in the game.
MARTIN DE RUYTER/STUFF
Marist's strong first-half defence, such as this tackle on Kahurangi centre Levi Aumua, kept them in the game.

In such an evenly matched contest, the title was going to come down to one play, one mistake, one piece of skill. With five minutes to play that Kahurangi mistake came, penalised for hands in the ruck to give Marist’s Sam Briggs a trophy-winning penalty attempt.

Despite the best efforts of the vocal Kahurangi supporters, he duly delivered under pressure, banging the penalty goal over from 35 metres to put Marist in front for the final time at 20-18.

Minutes later Briggs would make the final play of the game, stripping the ball in the tackle as Kahurangi made one last desperate push for victory to close the game and earn Marist the Stuff Tasman Trophy for 2021.