Rugby: Kaikorai, Dunedin in final against odds

Dunedin winger Liam Ward is tackled by Harbour back Marckis Schaaf during their premier semifinal...
Dunedin winger Liam Ward is tackled by Harbour back Marckis Schaaf during their premier semifinal at the University Oval on Saturday. Also trying to tackle him are fullback Logan Allen (on ground) and flanker Nailia Dawai. Photo by Christine O'Connor.

Did not see that coming.

Dunedin will play Kaikorai in the premier final this weekend after both sides upset higher-ranked opponents in the semifinals at the University Oval on Saturday.

Dunedin beat Harbour 21-20 in a tense game. Burly first five-eighth Louis Tili slotted the winning penalty with a few minutes remaining.

But the big surprise came in the second semifinal after Kaikorai scored two tries in the last five minutes to upset University A 31-29.

The students had been the benchmark all season but let a 22-5 lead slip away.

In the other matches, Southern beat Alhambra-Union 55-33 and Taieri edged Green Island 24-22.

Zingari-Richmond's game against Pirates was deferred.

Kaikorai                    31
University A             29

Kaikorai replacement winger Jordan McEntee threaded his way between two University A forwards and dashed 50m upfield to set up the key try in his side's surprise 31-29 win against University A in the second semifinal.

Fellow winger Matt Jones scored a couple of phases later to seal Kaikorai's place in the final against Dunedin.

However, about five minutes earlier Kaikorai's prospects looked bleak.

The students were nursing a 29-19 lead and defending stoutly.

But a nice hand-off from Jayden Spence enabled him to slip past a defender which created an opportunity for Danny van der Voort on the outside.

The left winger made a tremendous step back inside to evade one defender and crashed over in the tackle of prop Callum Hardie.

Jones kicked the conversion from the sideline to cut the gap to just three points and set up a tense finish.

The visiting side was behind on the scoreboard for about 90% of the match but actually enjoyed plenty of possession and dominated territory in the opening half.

University struck first when fullback Sam Aitken danced his way past four defenders in a 25m run to score in the seventh minute.

With both sides keen to get the ball wide, it was a game for opportunists and impressive University winger Gavin Stark pounced twice.

He picked off a pass from Kaikorai second five-eighth Logan Moore and ran 50m to dot down.

It was his 20th try this season.

No21 came a little later when University blew through a ruck and the speedy winger simply picked the ball up and ran 75m down the touchline to score.

Trailing 22-5, Kaikorai responded when Lee Allan crashed over and Jones poached an intercept try back for the visiting team.

Had the ball gone over his head, University would probably have scored down the other end. Instead Kaikorai went to the break trailing 22-19.

Kaikorai looked to have blown the game when fullback Tony Ensor was yellow-carded for a professional foul with 15 minutes remaining.

The home side took immediate advantage with Taylor Haugh running into the gap where Ensor might have been.

University's 10 point-lead seemed comfortable but Kaikorai was rewarded for its enterprise with two late tries.

Dunedin               21
Harbour               20

Dunedin could have kicked the winning penalty 15 minutes earlier but kept turning down opportunities to go for goal.

Had Harbour been able to get just one kick over it would be playing in the final.

The boot ended up deciding the opening semifinal and it was Dunedin's Louis Tili who kicked the winner with a few minutes remaining. He got that opportunity thanks to some wonderful work by the forwards.

Abrasive Harbour loose forward Naulai Dawai had scored from a lineout move to give the Hawks a 20-18 lead with time running out.

Dunedin did the smart thing.

It got hold of the ball, kept it in close and marched it ever so slowly up the middle of the paddock and waited for the penalty.

Who knows how many times Dunedin recycled the ball or how many times captain Mark Grieve-Dunn, playing in his 100th game, hit the ball up during those final tense moments?

Lots is probably the most accurate answer and eventually Dunedin's prayers were answered.

The whistle went and Tili strode up in an oversized shirt with no number to knock over what was a very easy kick.

Dunedin still had a few minutes to survive and its forwards kept hold of possession to seal the win.

Harbour scored four tries to two but fullback Logan Allen had a tough day with the boot, missing all four of his attempts.

Dunedin could have saved itself some angst had it kicked for goal midway through the second half.

It led 18-15 and had three very handy opportunities to extend its lead.

It battered away at the line instead but could not get over.

For Harbour, first five-eighth Joe Collins had an inspiring game. He bagged two tries, as did Dawai who produced another mighty effort.

No8 Ben Whale and lock Hale T-Pole got through a ton of work as well.

Openside Hame Toma and hooker Sam Anderson-Heather carried the ball strongly for Dunedin and were part of an excellent forward effort.

It was not a game in which there was much sparkling play in the Dunedin backline but fullback Tim Cossens did seize one opportunity.

He ran back a poor clearance, found Tim Tolovae, who cut through a gap and passed to winger Liam Ward, who ran around Whale to score in the corner.

Southern                     55
Alhambra-Union         33

A six-try scoring blitz in the middle stages of the second half secured victory and a place in the Gainsborough Shield final for Southern in its playoff match against Alhambra-Union at Bathgate Park.

Alhambra-Union appeared a side on a mission in the first half and held a 19-15 lead at the break, its forwards and backs combining to take the game to Southern, which appeared vulnerable under pressure.

But it was Southern which turned the game back in its favour in the second half, exposing defensive lapses out wide with a 20-minute scoring spree which amassed 40 points.

Alhambra-Union finished the game as it began, dominating the last 10 minutes and scoring two late consolation tries.

Taieri                      24
Green Island         22

Aggressive flanker Brodie Hume played a key role in Taieri's 24-22 win over Green Island in the Gainsborough Shield semifinal game at Peter Johnstone Park.

He made eight lineout takes and was quick to the breakdown.

Taieri scored two tries to lead 17-0 at the break and extended its lead to 24-7 when wing Mitchell Scott scored his second try.

First five-eighth Michael Collins was the other key Taieri back.

An intercept 50m try by fullback Jack Wilson after 17 minutes put Green Island back into the game.

Hooker Brent Hollamby, prop Ross Geldenhuys and flanker Jackson Hemopo stood out in the Green Island forwards.

Green Island dominated the first-half scrums but this advantage was lost when Golden Oldie scrums were played in the second spell.

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