Hawke’s Bay Tui Historic Final Victory
It was a close game, but Hawke’s Bay just pulled it off. Photo/Getty
The Hawke’s Bay Tuis scaled the mountain to make it a lucky third time and earn promotion to NPC Farah Palmer Cup Premier.
They beat favorites and previously undefeated Otago Spirit 24-20 in South Otago town Balclutha, in the Bunnings NPC Championship Division Final – a classic send off today for former Black Fern veteran Emma Jensen, at the age of 45 his 57 minutes being the last in a career of more than 160 first-class games.
Considered to have played the first women’s interprovincial rugby match in 1980, Hawke’s Bay had not won any silver medals since a women’s national championship was first played in 1999.
It was 17 all at half-time and Hawke’s Bay were down 17-20 and, after having a try between the posts disallowed due to a double move, won the match in a double act by two of the players the most experienced of the team – a seven try just minutes from full time halfway between the posts and the touchline scored by prop Gemma Woods and first five eighth Kristen Cottrell completing Tui‘s three try conversion.
Otago Spirit, who beat Hawke’s Bay 44-22 in the team’s first round clash at Hastings, fought back but the ball was knocked down with the try line beckoning and the game was over.
Accepting the Championship Division trophy, Jensen, now also a board member of Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union, was pleased with the performances of a group of young players who have brought the Tuis into a new era in the top flight.
The Tui were convincingly beaten by Manawatu Cyclones in the Championship split final last year, and by Otago in 2019, when the score was also 24-20.
They finished the season with five wins from six games, following the initial loss to Otago with wins over North Harbour, Northland and Taranaki, split points for a draw against Tasman and a 28-19 semi-final win over Northland .
As expected, Otago applied the early pressure, but it was Hawke’s Bay second five-eighth Jaimee Robin who scored near the posts, with Cottrell’s conversion giving the Travelers a 7-0 lead.
Otago fought back to level the scores with a try center Cheyenne Cunningham, converted by halfback Georgia Cormick, Cottrell put the bay back in the lead at 10-7 with a penalty goal it went 14-10 at home with a try from flanker Leah Miles, again converted by Cormick.
Hawke’s Bay’s second try, at winger Leilani Hakiwai, with Cottrell scoring the two points again to make it 17-14, was a blow to Otago’s confidence.
He claimed another penalty to equalize before the break but was pushed through by impressive second-half tackles, with a particularly good effort from 18-year-old substitute half-back Kahlia Awa, a student at Hastings Girls High School.
She picked up the pace in a well-judged finish to the game as Hawke’s Bay made it difficult for Otago in the second half, as indicated by another penalty kick being the only reward for the remainder of the match, against possible nod from Woods.
Triumphant coach Blair Cross, with the team then on the bus to Dunedin, where the team had originally hoped to play in the big game arena at Forsyth Barr’s indoor stadium, said he knew in advance that Otago had not been physically pressured. earlier in the season, and it was hoped that if the Tui could “get the upper hand” a victory was possible.
“We decided to challenge them, and it worked,” he said.
Hopes were raised when the Tui held off 15 minutes in defense in the second half, without conceding a point, and with Cottrell managing the game well, and a solid performance from centers Jaimee Robin (in his 30th game winner for Hawke’s Bay) and Amelia Pasikala, the team was well prepared to claim victory when the opportunities presented themselves.
Cottrell was player of the game for the team, her 9 points taking her to 55 in six games.
“She put in a really good performance,” Cross said. “She took a few hits, but always came back.”
Canterbury beat Auckland 41-14 in the Premiership final in Christchurch, and Cross said the top rating would be a big step forward for Hawke’s Bay next season.
Hawke’s Bay Tui 24 (Jaimee Robin, Leilani Hakiwai, Gemma Woods tries; Krysten Cottrell pen, 3 con) Otago Spirit 20 (Cheyenne Cunningham, Leah Miles tries; Georgia Cormick 2 pen, 2 con). ME: 17-17.
The winning team from Hawke’s Bay was: Rakai Tatu-McCafferty; Leilani Hakiwai, Amelia Pasikala, Jaimee Robin, Apryll Green; Krysten Cottrell, Emma Jensen; Kathleen Brown; Laurae Blake, Tamia Edwards; Leah Tuhi, Nina Pineaha; Jannali Ruawai Johnson, Hayley McKay, Gemma Woods. Subs: Jess Bennett, Melanie Te Whaiti, Tuia Edwards, Virginia Edwards, Kahlia Awa, Shaylee Tipiwai, Nicolette Adamson, Danielle Pomare Mackay.