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Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly scores for the Hurricanes Poua (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly scores for the Hurricanes Poua (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

SportsMarch 13, 2023

Super Rugby Aupiki week three review: And then there were… four

Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly scores for the Hurricanes Poua (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly scores for the Hurricanes Poua (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The semi-final matchups are locked in after the third round of Super Rugby Aupiki saw a high-scoring hitout in Hamilton and a come-from-behind victory in Wellington. Alice Soper recaps.

Chiefs Manawa v Matatū

The Matatū were given a tough assignment in the last round of pool play, heading up to Waikato to take on Chiefs Manawa and their 100% win record. Viewers were treated to a sandwich of a performance. Matatū were brilliant at the top and bottom of the match, wrapping around a whole lot of Manawa in the middle.

The first half was forwards versus backs, with the backline of Matatū striking first. Amy du Plessis ran with no fear into the Manawa defence, offloading with two players on her back before the pace of Chey Robins-Reti finished out wide. Manawa hit back with a kick pass from Hazel Tubic slipping through the grasp of Grace Steinmetz and pounced upon by Mererangi Paul.

Matatū liked the look of that kick pass and Holmes fired her own to Robins-Reti. She offloaded to Grace Brooker, who somehow offloaded infield as she was being tackled out of it. The ball found Rosie Kelly as she hit the gas, slipping tackles to score. Grace Steinmetz followed soon after and Matatū suddenly had a healthy lead, 19-8.

Then the Manawa forwards decided to flex their muscle, and were rewarded when one of the competition’s top try scorers, Luka Connor, found her way back to the tryline. She was followed by Kennedy Simon, capitalising off a monster Manawa scrum, before a line break from Kelsie Thwaites set up another, her long legs and casual stride misrepresenting the pace she was travelling at. Lucky for her, Tubic appeared to not have hamstrings as she scooped the offload off her laces and got the ball to Georgia Daals to extend the lead. With the clock well in the red, Tynealle Fitzgerald crashed over for one more, making it 34-19 to Manawa at the break. 

In the second half it started looking like the script of their previous matches as Manawa add another and march their way closer to 50 points on the scoreboard. Matatū, though, were also playing to script – they showed the same grit they have all season and lived every minute of this game. They had only nine of them left on the clock when they finally got back into the action, scoring once, twice, three times – suddenly we were wondering, could they steal the win? Not this time, but wow, what a finish. This performance confirmed why these two are at the top of the table. 

Chiefs Manawa 46 – Matatū 38

Hurricanes Poua v Blues

The result from the earlier match meant that the winner from this one would be playing Matatū in the semi-final. This was the first time the Hurricanes Poua and Blues had played each other, and it got off to a jittery start with both sides exchanging handling errors. This meant a lot of scrum time, but the Poua have been putting in the work and held their own.

A well-weighted kick from Blues first-five Ruahei Demant sat up for Patricia Maliepo who raced up the field. The Poua were backpedalling quickly and Ayesha Leti I’iga found herself in the wrong backline when she was passed the ball from the Blues ruck. Having not got back onside, this was a foul and saw Leti I’iga sent to the sideline for 10 minutes. This was bad news for the Poua as the Blues were intent on running the ball, and now had a handy overlap. It wasn’t long until Katelyn Vaha’akolo found herself in space and the Blues scored. 

The ferocity of both sides on defence disrupted much of the attacking opportunities. There were plenty of line breaks but not a lot of points – the Poua finally get theirs when a kick pass from Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali landed in the hands of Autumn-Rain Stephens-Daly. Carys Dallinger added the extras to put the Poua up 7-5 at the break. 

The game came alive in the second half, starting with the Poua’s Joanah Ngan-Woo managing to ground the ball amid a sea of blue. A quick tap put Ruahei Demant over the line but moments later Stephens-Daly hit back for the Poua. Isabella Waterman was subbed on and slotted a penalty, extending the Poua lead to 10 points with just over 15 minutes to go. 

Wave after wave of Blues attack were thrown at the Poua and in the 73rd minute they finally crashed over. Two Poua players were down in back play, the physicality of the match taking its toll on tired bodies and opening up more than enough space for Maliepo to score. 

The Blues have outscored their opposition in the second half of every match this season, and this game was no different – Krysten Cottrell scored the try to bring the sides level and kicked the conversion to give them the lead, and the momentum carried the Blues home. Maliepo, who was superb all day, scored the final try. 

Hurricanes Poua 22 – Blues 31

Coming up…

The semi-finals will be a repeat of round one with Matatū playing the Blues and Manawa playing Poua. This gives us all a chance to grade the teams’ improvements over this short season. 

Only two points separated the Blues and Matatū in the opening round and there’s no reason not to expect a similarly tight scoreline. The Blues are still a second half team but started more strongly against the Poua. Matatū have found their timing and only just fell short against the Manawa. The Blues have a home advantage with the semi finals being played at North Habour Stadium. However, Matatū has a loyal fanbase which will be up for the commute. Basically, this match is too close to call. 

Meanwhile, Manawa enter their semi as the deserved favourites. They are the most complete side in this competition, with muscle up front complimented by flair in the backs. This means they have resilience when the game isn’t going their way, able to pull things in tight or run wild. 

The Poua will be hurting after letting the game against the Blues slip. We still haven’t seen them perform to their potential for a whole 80 minutes. The best rugby they’ve played was in the opening 20 against the Manawa. They need to go back and check that tape and do their homework on what the Matatū and Blues also exposed about this Manawa side. 

It’ll be a mammoth task to topple this Manawa juggernaut. But this is what semi-finals are all about. Tune in to both this weekend to get ready for the big dance on 25 March. 

Round Three Awards

Form is temporary, class is permanent: Victoria Subritizky-Nafatali showing all her skills for the Hurricanes Poua.

Silk purse from a sow’s ear: Grace Steinmetz turning a mistimed set move into try scoring magic.

Super sub: Melanie Puckett shifting the gears for the Blues, her two quick taps creating two crucial tries.

Keep going!