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We finally made it. All the trials and tribulations are over, all the machinations have played out. We are down to two and, as the Highlander said (or it may have been Sean Connery): ``there can only be one!'' In dreadful conditions, Taieri just edged past neighbour and nemesis Green Island at the Elver Pit. GI was understrength and missed colossus Dylan Nel at No8 but took it to the wire and, but for a few missed penalties, could have made the hallowed turf this weekend. But it was not to be and Moeahu and his band of Spannerheads can reflect on a great season and they won a lot of hearts along the way. Hats off to an unheralded Taieri side which finished top qualifier and owns the Gallaway for the summer - it is a worthy finalist.
In the other semi at Loch Oval, Harbour came with the rep and looked unbeatable on paper but left looking like a drowned rat. Games are not won on paper and the Bookworms, especially their pack, cared not a jot for reputation. On the back of an industrious, grinding front row they wore down their vaunted and bigger opposites. Admittedly, it took them 79.3 minutes to do so but that's why we play for 80 minutes. Forget the fact it was a game of mindless tedium with 100-plus reset scrums - it is the result that counts. Mark my words, Varsity is the team to beat at the Greenhouse tomorrow at 4.15 pm.
Well, we are here at finals day and it starts at 10.45 am tomorrow - that's early. I could moan about the draw and the lack of promotion of the event but I'm bigger than that - let's get it on! The schedule draw is prem colts at 10.45am when unbeaten Kaik takes on third qualifier the Dunedin Makos. The prem two final is at 12.30pm between second qualifier Dunedin and fourth qualifier Taieri. The women's final between top qualifier Pirates and runner up Varsity is at 2.15 pm. At the same time, across the road at Logan Park, the junior colts final will be between second qualifier Kaikorai and fourth qualifier Dunedin - so you are spoilt for choice. And yes, if you've already paid, they'll let you back in for free (Ralph & Clint to organise!) Then it is the big dance - Taieri v Varsity at 4.15 pm. Bars and BBQs on the ODT slab all day. Make sure you get along - it promises to be epic. I'll see you there!
Down on the farm
In the North, Maheno (really Southern B) defied my prediction and tipped over Old Boys to win its second title in four years so big congrats. My spies' brains have become addled up Oamaru way and nobody really knows which teams will be fronting next year. But they've had as many defaults as Phil Twyford has built affordable homes (so not that many) but something must happen. I'm at the Ranfurly Shield game today so will track down Jacko for comment but I'm saying at least one gone!
In Central, it's down to second qualifier Cromwell against bottom qualifier Arrowtown (Goats v Bulls). In the last game they played a point separated them, the Goats holding on. Nearly too close to call but the Goats just at home.
In the South, it promised so much but in the end let us down. We dared to dream this was Owaka's year but the Coalminers put paid to that. Favourite returning Owaka son Joe Latta was mysteriously pulled by Otago from the semi and it just couldn't get it done - there's always next year! So old rivals Clutha and Crescent go at it again and yes, yawn, Clutha wins it again - really!
The eternal posers
So applications for Otago coach for next season have been called. The likely contenders could be incumbent assistants Tom Donnelly and Ryan Martin, Jason MacDonald, who is in Japan, and my bolter in Spannerhead Dean Moeahu. I've discussed this before but in this new age why do we really need an Otago coach? Let's be honest. Super 15 is our provincial rugby now and that gets the crowds and the passion and even that is slipping. NPC is a feeder programme and New Zealand Rugby is loath to throw money at it. The whole thing is over in nine weeks and the nonsensical format with two divisions has failed to capture the imagination. NZR does not want to prop it up financially any more. Isn't it time the provincial unions and NZR agreed that bringing in players to prop up NPC teams is fiscally irresponsible and that all unions recruit solely from within and play with what they've got. In fact, you'll probably get better crowds as fans can relate to local players. That being said, what we want in a coach is a leader, a promoter of grassroots rugby, some who understands the club challenges and somebody who regards coaching Otago and being grassroots champion as the career, not the next available gig. I think Dean Moeahu is that champion. What do you think? Just an aside - Thames Valley ran Otago close for a while a couple of weeks ago in the Shield challenge and, while you wouldn't want to be the team that lost to a Heartland challenger, how good would the Shield be in Heartland for a season? The mind boggles.
Up against the host with most - the Speight's Ale House's rotund, jovial, convivial publican extraordinaire Mark Scully - the picture doesn't do him justice. I must win after crashing and burning to Mayor Cull last week. In prems, Varsity (12-) should be too strong for Taieri across the park and pace out wide from Taylor Haugh should get it home. In the women's grade, Pirates (13+) is unbeaten and tips up Varsity. In prem twos, Dunedin (12-) has some X-factor players and will spark at the right times and just get over Taieri. In prem colts, Kaik (13+) is unbeaten and will be far too good for the Makos. In junior colts, Kaik (12-) will make it two from two over the Sharks and should win well.
The last rumours
The mutterings are getting stronger that West Taieri is disappearing to the South Otago comp next year as it feels it is not getting a fair shake in the town comp with the draws or the starting times. Tell me it is not so. The metro committee could be gone in its current format for next year - watch this space.
The form XV
The season is nearly done and it is time to nail the coffin shut for the summer. I've picked an overall form XV for the year which hopefully you'll agree with (or not). From this team we will announce the Speight's-ODT Club Player of the Year next Wednesday in the ODT. Don't miss it. This is our 24th awarding of the prestigious trophy. The form XV is: 15 Taylor Haugh (V), 14 Mackenzie Haugh (S), 13 Matt Whaanga (T), 12 Ray Nu'u (GI), 11 Jordan McEntree (K), 10 Ben Miller (K), 9 Connor McLeod (V), 8 Dylan Nel (GI), 7 Jack McHugh (V), 6 Slade McDowell (K), 5 Ben Morris (T), 4 Woody Kirkwood (GI), 3 Saula Mau (H), 2 Jake Fowler (GI), 1 Teague McElroy (D). Yes, I know I've picked two opensides, but these are the best-performed players across this season, so congrats lads.
The dreaded report card
Alhambra Union - C-
Just missed the wooden spoon in prems in a very average year for the club. None of its teams have got anywhere near finals football. It is saved from a D as it is represented in every grade, which few others can boast, and socially it is in great heart.
Dunedin - C
Disastrous season by its standards in premiers as it finished third-last so why a C? Well, it's made finals in prem twos, prem colts and junior colts, which is a great achievement, and it is in with a sniff of the Ainge Trophy.
Green Island - C+
It has had a great year with the prems making the semis for the first time in 17 years. The prem two side was not far away from the four and the junior colts made the semis. Numerically not strong but very strong socially and financially. Very solid performance.
Harbour - C+
Its three teams - prems, seniors and prem colts - all made semis but none went further. Numerically weak but a pretty good season with the prem colts making the four a huge boost. Very solid season.
Kaikorai - B-
Numercially strong and just missed the four in prems. It is represented in most grades and the seniors made semis, the prem colts side is unbeaten and it had two teams in junior colts semis with one going through to final. Very solid result and a definite contender for the Ainge Trophy.
Southern - D
Extremely average year and in rebuilding phase. Numerically weak and all three sides failed to flatter at the back end of the season. A lot of work still to do.
Taieri - B-
Top qualifier in prems and its prem two team made the finals and the prem colts made the top four. Numerically strong with a fantastic support base if not a wee bit feral! Very solid season and definitely in the running for the Ainge Trophy so well worth its mark.
Varsity - C+
Favourite for the prem final, its prem two team was top qualifier but fell at the semifinals and its women are in the final. All its colts sides were surprisingly not sighted in the semis for the first time in living memory but still a solid result and still in the hunt for the Ainge Trophy.
Zingari - D
The proud owner of the serrated-edged wooden spoon in premiers and its other two teams weren't sighted so a very average year with a lot of work to do to climb off the bottom rung.
The Ainge Trophy
Too close to call with four clubs still in the hunt - Dunedin, Kaikorai, Taieri and Varsity are still live in the closest race in years. Tomorrow will determine all.
That's the season done but I'll leave you with this little gem. Varsity coach Peter McIntyre has won seven banners in seven years and is going for his eighth tomorrow - unbelievable. Varsity, put the bronze statue up now. Good luck to all tomorrow and have a great summer.