Fast going will suit University but Harbour ready

University captain Jack McHugh (left) and Harbour skipper Charles Elton get to touch  the prize...
University captain Jack McHugh (left) and Harbour skipper Charles Elton get to touch the prize at stake in today’s Dunedin premier final. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Spoiler alert — University will look to fan out across the field and use its pace out wide.

Harbour will want to punch holes close to the ruck and turn today’s club premier final into a melee.

Actually, that is no revelation. It is what both teams have been doing all year.

University will start as favourite. It  beat Harbour in both their  round-robin games and set the benchmark this season.

But  the students also look  better equipped to exploit the firm surface they will find at Forsyth Barr Stadium this afternoon.

Fullback Taylor Haugh will enjoy the conditions more than most. He has been ghosting into gaps all winter and will be relieved he does not have to run around the boggy cricket wicket at the University of Otago Oval.

First five-eighth Michael Williams is one of the more accurate goal-kickers in the tournament and  shapes up as a key playmaker as well.

Up front, prop Kilipati Lea and blindside Sam Dickson have had tremendous seasons, and openside flanker and captain Jack McHugh is never far from the ball.

The 20-year-old transplanted Aucklander has not spent much time working out  how Harbour will approach its second consecutive final.

"Obviously, their game plan is to go up the middle through their forward pack and they have a real good pack," he said.

"But we know what is coming and we know if we can slow down their front-foot ball, it should be game on."

University has mastered the art of not committing too many players to the ruck and McHugh said the team would have to be accurate in that area so it could play the type of game it wants.

That means going low and bringing the ball carrier down quickly and efficiently.Harbour has had some of the stuffing knocked out of its blueprint with its beefy Otago-contracted players not available. But the Hawks will still field a formidable pack with the likes of prop Giorgio Bower, loosie Solomon Pole and hardworking captain and No 8 Charles Elton  capable of getting across the advantage line.

Stopping burly second five-eighth Hemaua Samasoni is an undertaking and a-half, while first five-eighth Logan Allen’s tactical kicking game will be an asset as well.

The Hawks will not lack for physicality but the question is whether they will start lagging behind in the second half.

Arguably they were favourites last season and led Southern 12-10 at the break. But they faded in the second spell and eventually lost 24-15.

Elton is one of seven starters from last year’s final to return for another shot and he is hoping for a different result.

Despite missing the likes of bruising ball carriers Joketani Koroi and Sione Misiloi, Elton said the game plan would "not change much".

"We’ve definitely still got the big chunky forward pack you talk about ...  so it won’t change much in terms of what we do," he said.

The upset win against Taieri in the semifinal cemented Harbour’s belief it can still play the type of rugby it would like to play.

"University is definitely a different kettle of fish. They are a good side and have shown that all year.

"Taylor Haugh is a massive threat at the back and I think it showed last week. The two tries they did score were in a lot down to him.

"They have a good forward pack, a good lineout and good set pieces, so we’ve identified those areas as well."

That just leaves some gaps around the ruck — perhaps.Harbour has never won the banner, while University is chasing its 50th title.


Dunedin premier club final
Forsyth Barr Stadium, 3.15pm Record 

University: Played 17, won 14, lost 3. Harbour: Played 17, won 10, lost 5, drew 2. Teams University: Taylor Haugh, Gavin Stark, Calvin Vari, Emeka Ilogu, Cam Gerlach, Michael Williams, Connor McLeod, Dale Jarden, Jack McHugh (captain), Sam Dickson, Josh Hill, Ben Reidy, Angus Williams, Ricky Jackson, Kilipati Lea. Reserves: Callum Hardie, Josh Policarpio, Ben Smith, Cory Morrison, Kieran McClea, Tyler Beary, Tom Morrison.

Harbour: Sam Porter, Ngana Nicholas, Ewan Brumwell, Hemaua Samasoni, Piliu Tavake, Logan Allen, Vinnie Isherwood, Charles Elton, James Tomkinson, Solomon Pole, Alan Burling, Tim Medder, Giorgio Bower, Abraham Pole, Aidan Spence. Reserves: Taine Wagstaff, Christian Schaaf, Hale T-Pole, Hayden Cleghorn, Melani Matavao, Ratu Bishop, Jinho Mun.

Referee: Jono Bredin


Final facts

The finals format was introduced in 1986 after University and Southern had shared the title two years running.

• University has been the most successful. It has played in 19 finals and won 13 of them. Dunedin has won eight of its 12 appearances, while Harbour is 0-6.

• Taieri’s Hayden Parker has the most points in a single final with 24 and most points in the finals with 48.

• Southern’s McKenzie Haugh is the only player to score three tries in a final. That was in last year’s match against Harbour.

• The biggest margin in a final was Taieri’s 51-6 win against University in 2014. University is a close second; it beat Southern 51-8 in 1993.

• In the event of a draw today, there will be a five-minute break, followed by 10 minutes of extra time each way. If the scores are still locked, the team which has scored the most tries will be crowned the champion. If the teams have scored the same number of tries, the title will be shared.

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