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Harbour outplayed Dunedin 40-27 in the early semifinal at Hancock Park yesterday. Dunedin scored two late tries to close the final margin but otherwise struggled to match the physicality of the Harbour pack.Southern had to work much harder to get past Kaikorai in the second semifinal at the same venue. Kaikorai scored the game’s only try deep in injury time but a late penalty helped Southern seal a 15-10 win.
Southern ought to be pondering how it was able to dominate the set pieces yet almost let the match slip away.
Talented Southern first five-eighth Josh Ioane kicked five penalties to help his side hold on for a 15-10 semifinal win against Kaikorai.
The score was stuck at 12-3 for almost all of the second half until Kaikorai’s replacement loose forward Iakopo Petelo Mapu burst down the left touchline before off-loading to Dan Pryor.
The Highlanders loose forward put in a deft grubber which popped up nicely for replacement back Byron Dodge.
Ioane tried desperately to roll him in the tackle and keep him from grounding the ball.
Dodge got it down, though, and Matt Jones knocked over the conversion. And with just a minute or two of injury time remaining, Kaikorai trailed 12-10.
The defending champion may argue it had the better of the second half but the comeback effectively ended when Ioane knocked over his fifth penalty moments after the try.
There was time for a restart but that was about it. The Magpies got the win and can thank their forwards for doing the hard work.
Otago prop Craig Millar teamed up with Mike Mata’afa and Cameron Keech to put Kaikorai under tremendous pressure in the scrums.
Kaikorai got pushed off the ball a couple of times and its lineout was shaky as well. Lock Axel Hohneck and loose forwards Adam Knight and Josh Clark owned the air.
With all that set piece domination, Southern had more than enough ball and ought to have made more of its attacking opportunities.
Ioane cut through the defensive line several times but the support was not always looming up or the last pass would go astray.
The first real opportunity came when Ioane popped up in a hole and dashed towards the line midway through the first half. He had players clear on the left and tried to get the ball to one of them but Jones leapt high and deflected the pass away.
But perhaps the best opportunity was when halfback Josh Walden lost the ball forward when diving for the line in second half.
Southern also muscled the ball over the line, and right under the posts too, but could not get it down.
Kaikorai really scrambled well on defence, though. And it had much more ball in the second half. It was guilty of some aimless kicking but did have opportunities. It battered away at Southern’s line only for Southern to get out of trouble by stealing a lineout or coming up with a tighthead.
Kaikorai loose forward Slade McDowall and lock Blair Tweed got through a lot of tackles between them. Hooker James Hadfield was part of a backpedaling scrum but he carried the ball strongly and stood out as Kaikorai’s best forward.
Aggressive flanker Ben Whale played the decisive hand to help Harbour beat Dunedin 40-27 in in the opening semifinal.
He grabbed the ball in the lineout from a Dunedin throw on his own 22m, broke the defence and raced 40m into Dunedin territory.
Big tighthead prop Giorgio Bower ranged outside him and carried the attack inside the Dunedin 22m and No8 and captain Charles Elton was on hand to score the 80m try.
The try came after 37 minutes and gave Harbour a 20-point lead. Dunedin rallied in the final minute of the half when halfback Jonathan Ruru scored to reduce the lead to 23-10 at the break.
Whale (23) was the player of the game with his work at the breakdown, ferocious tackling and his skill at the back of the lineout when he made seven clean takes.
It was the strength of the Harbour forwards that took the club into its sixth championship final since the Harbour club was formed by the amalgamation of Port Chalmers and Ravensbourne at the end of 1991.
Harbour got the better of the strong Dunedin pack in the scrums and had the edge in the lineouts.
But the biggest feature of its game was the ball-carrying ability of the forwards who took the ball ahead of the advantage line.
Big men such as locks Sione Misiloi, Chucky Koroi, hooker Sekonaia Pole and Bower battered the Dunedin defensive line and took the sting out of the defence.
Openside flanker James Tomkinson did a power of work at the breakdown and the hardworking Elton was was on hand to score two tries.
Halfback Vinnie Isherwood controlled play and was the best Harbour back. Sio Tomkinson made some deft touches in the midfield and big wing Hemaua Samasoni used his strength to score Harbour’s final try and stretch the lead to 40-15.
The game was over by this stage but Dunedin kept fighting and scored two tries in the last five minutes to reduce the margin to 13 points.
Leroy van Dam made a difference in the second spell when he was shifted from wing to the midfield with his ability to break the line.
He scored the last try himself and made the decisive break for Dunedin’s other two tries in the second spell. Ruru was the other Dunedin back to demonstrate class.
The Dunedin forwards displayed a gutsy defence when the Harbour forwards were battering into them. Lock Harry Dodds and flanker Hame Toma had strong games.
Harbour scored two tries and added 12 points when Dunedin captain Mark Grieve Dunn spent 10 minutes in the sin bin late in the first spell.
(Charles Elton 2, Logan Allen, Sio Tomkinson, Hemaua Samasoni, Sala Halaleva tries; Allen 2 con, 2 pen)
(Jonathan Ruru, Leroy van Dam, Ashley Craig, Mone Samate-Palu tries; Tim Cossens con, pen, George Witana con).
Halftime: Harbour 23-10.
(Josh Ioane 5 pen)
(Byron Dodge try; Matt Jones con, pen).