Dunedin dig deep to win title

The Dunedin players and support staff celebrate with the spoils after the side’s win over...
The Dunedin players and support staff celebrate with the spoils after the side’s win over Alhambra-Union in the women’s club rugby final at Dunedin’s Tahuna Park on Saturday. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH
Dunedin rebounded from losing last year’s final to beat Alhambra-Union 15-14 and claim the women’s premier title at Tahuna Park on Saturday.

In an epic encounter that could have swung either way, Dunedin players dug deep over the final minutes to shut out the defending champions and claim the season’s grand prize.

AU were in control for most of the game, but gave up a series of late penalties.

Dunedin, trailing 14-10, set up a maul from a lineout, leading to five phases of pick-and-go assaults at the line.

Halfback Charlotte Williams and first five Sheree Hume set up winger Naomi Sopoaga to score a try in the corner.

AU, who had maintained a lead through three Georgia Cormick penalties and a try to winger Tessa Brown, appeared rattled, while Dunedin rallied to defend their one-point lead until the whistle.

Hume and Williams combined well at the back of a forward pack constantly under fire from a tough AU unit, while Hume’s clearing kicks and ability to run into space often turned defence into attack.

Early in the second half, No 8 Greer Muir broke out from the Dunedin 22m and looked likely to score before she was brought down 10m short of the AU line. An offload left Hume to score and make it 11-10.

In the latter stages of the first half, Muir had scored from a quick tap close to the line soon after winger Hannah Norris set the game alight, showing her speed down the flank and ability to evade would-be defenders stepping off the left foot.

Dunedin, despite a superior set piece, had come under immense pressure from the AU defence, Cormick and No 8 Bella Rewiri-Wharerau playing key roles in creating space and opportunity for a well-marked backline.

AU’s sole try was a result of the constant threat the pair posed to the Dunedin defence.

From deep within her own half, Cormick ran wide and linked with centre Jamie Church. She offloaded to winger Brown, who dived over in the corner for the try in the tackles of Dunedin fullback Neave Rowland and centre Te Atawhai Campbell.

The game highlighted some emerging talent in the Otago women’s ranks.

Norris showed her pace to excel in the company of Dunedin midfielders and Otago Spirit players Hume and Oceana and Te Atawhai Campbell.

Dunedin players (from left) Grace Guyton-Voyce, Erin Adams and Amoe Wharehinga celebrate their win.
Dunedin players (from left) Grace Guyton-Voyce, Erin Adams and Amoe Wharehinga celebrate their win.
Dunedin locks Rikki Fitzgerald and Grace Guyton-Voyce and flanker Maddy Sullivan dominated at the lineout and were instrumental at turning over the ball at the breakdown.

AU were well-served by the high workrate and vision of Cormick, along with Rewiri-Wharerau and first five Charlotte Va’afusuaga.

Dunedin captain Oceana Campbell was pleased with how her team stayed in the fight.

“It was a really hard match, right up to the very last seconds, and we put it all out there", Campbell said.

"Big credit to AU — they are a really strong team and really gave it to us.

“It was tit-for tat for most of the game and AU had us under the pump, particularly in the first half. The game could have gone either way."

After seemingly having the game in the bag, AU captain Rewiri-Wharerau said it was a bitter pill to swallow.

“We’re a bit gutted. In the last 10 minutes, we lost our composure and made too many mistakes. That cost us the final.

"But it was a good game. I’m still proud of the girls no matter what. They left it all out there."


Women’s final

The scores

Dunedin                          15

Greer Muir, Sheree Hume, Naomi Sopoaga tries

Alhambra-Union            14

Tessa Brown try; Georgia Cormick 3 pen

Halftime:  AU 11-5.