You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
Harbour built up a big lead by halftime but was guilty of clocking out too early in its 30-20 win against Taieri.
University held on to win 21-20 but Kaikorai scored two second-half tries and set up a thrilling finish.
Harbour had to fight off a belated challenge from Taieri at Peter Johnstone Park.
Not many were picking a Hawks’ victory. Their pack looked a little lean after the Otago camp had swooped in and hoisted off some prime beef, but Harbour still fielded a very solid pack and dominated the forward exchanges.
The visitors swept to a 25-3 halftime lead with a lot of help from an awkward Taieri side which lurched through the opening 30 minutes from one mistake to the next.
The usually reliable Josh Casey had a off game.
He got caught trying to get cute in the 22 and turned over possession.
He ought to have put his boot to the ball and cleared but Harbour pounced. It battered away at the line and eventually winger Piliu Tavake found space out wide and scored.
Harbour swung back on to attack when halfback Vinnie Isherwood ripped the ball off his opposite.
There was bit too much of that, from Taieri’s point of view. When the Eels were not knocking it on, they were getting pushed off the ball or frustrated and giving away silly penalties.
After another error 10m out, Harbour was awarded a scrum and the try was pretty simple stuff.
Isherwood flicked the ball to burly second five-eighth Hemaua Samasoni, who took some stopping.
Isherwood swung in behind and dived over to score from the base of the ruck.
Harbour added another through front rower Aidan Spence after Harbour first five-eighth Logan Allen kicked to the corner following more ill-discipline from Taieri.
A lineout drive was assured and so was the eventual try. Taieri winger Glen Beadle gave the Peter Johnstone faithful a reason to cheer when he knocked over his opposite in a strong tackle early in the second spell.
Prop Kieran O’Sullivan drove over for his side’s first try 54 minutes into the game.
Harbour prop Giorgio Bower scored the decisive points. He smashed through the defence and ran in from 20m to score midway through the second spell.
Taieri scored consolation tries through Shannon Young and Matt Whaanga.
The late sinbinning of Hale T-Pole did not help Harbour’s cause.
The pundits had Varsity winning this game in a canter but nobody passed the script to Kaikorai, which took this game to the wire and missed by a solitary point.
The game was not helped by the contentious cricket pitch area or greasy quagmire as it actually was. Players were reminiscent of ponderous oil tankers as they cruised through it. That aside, this was a pulsating semifinal with continuous ebb and flow and neither side really took control.
The Varsity scrum was totally dominant for 65 minutes this possibly won it ether game.
Kaikorai was constantly back-pedalling and No8 Patrick McCurran did remarkably well to control some awful ball at the back of the scrum. Varsity also had the better at lineout time and was seldom challenged on its own ball.
Both sets of forwards had some massive ball runners and none were better than opposing locks Ben Reidy for Varsity and Pita Sinamoni for Kaikorai.
Varsity put early points on the board through a penalty to first five-eighth Mike Williams but Kaikorai took the lead off a nicely worked try to winger Corey Miller.
The game’s most influential player, the energiser bunny Varsity fullback Taylor Haugh, put flanker Sam Dickson in for the converted try and a five-point lead at the break.
Kaikorai came out breathing fire in the second spell and after a Ben Miller penalty the human concrete block prop Sam Wyber crashed over out wide to put it in front by three. That woke Varsity and after another penalty to Williams to draw level, it was Haugh again who split the defence with searing pace on a 40m surge and he flipped an in-pass to replacement halfback Kieran McLea to restore the five-point lead.
Williams then kicked a handy penalty to give Varsity an 8-point lead and the game looked done. But Kaikorai stormed back and Sam Wyber looked to score out wide again. As he was being bundled into touch he managed to pop a pass to replacement forward Chris Whitley, who crashed over. Miller kicked the conversion from the sideline and the lead to Varsity was down to one. Varsity played the last two minutes deep in Kaik territory to win a thriller.
For Varsity, others to stand out were Williams at first five-eighth as he always took the ball to the line. Flanker Dickson was all over the park and prominent at lineout time. Gus Williams and Ricky Jackson were immense at scrum time and tireless on the carry.
Ben Miller was Kaikorai’s best back and midfielder TJ Ane breached the line on numerous occasions. McCurran was powerful at No8 and prop Sidney Fidow was prominent on the charge.
Harbour 30 (Piliu Tavake, Vinnie Isherwood, Aidan Spence, Giorgio Bower tries; Logan Allen 2 con, 2 pen), Taieri 20 (Kieran O’Sullivan, Shannon Young, Matt Whaanga tries; Whaanga con, Brodie Flannery pen). Halftime: 25-3.
University 21 (Sam Dickson, Kieran McClea tries, Mike Williams con, 3 pen), Kaikorai 20 (Sam Wyber, Corey Miller, Chris Whitley tries, Ben Miller con, pen).