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Mererangi Paul seals it for Chiefs Manawa (Photo:  Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Mererangi Paul seals it for Chiefs Manawa (Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

SportsMarch 20, 2023

Super Rugby Aupiki semis review: Matatū, Manawa, rugby all winners on the day

Mererangi Paul seals it for Chiefs Manawa (Photo:  Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Mererangi Paul seals it for Chiefs Manawa (Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

We have our 2023 finalists after a big Sunday double-header at North Shore Stadium. Alice Soper reviews.

Matatū vs Blues

Matatū have scored the first try in every match they have played this season. It looked like this streak was going to be broken as the Blues finally found the strong start they’d been searching for. Strong scrums and two penalties from the boot of Krysten Cottrell gave the Blues the early edge. After 10 minutes of hard defence, Matatū finally made their first trip to the other end of the field. A short pass from Grace Brooker to Kendra Reynolds on the charge was just enough to put her in space and keep their first try record intact. 

It was game on then, with the Blues striking back through Katelyn Vaha’akolo before the teams traded handling errors which kept the scoreline low. Safe hands have been a challenge across the board in this competition, no doubt a result of short preseason and limited time to train together. Before this weekend, each team had racked up 17-18 unforced handling errors apiece. That number will have grown after this match. The passes started to stick for Matatū in the back end of the first half, however, and Chey Robins-Reti ran in two tries to put them up 19-11 at the half. 

While Matatū have scored first each game, the Blues have scored more than their opposition in every second half this season. Matatū, having prepared for this second wind, went to work early. Chey Robin-Reti looked to have bagged her hat trick with some aerial acrobatics in the corner. However, the replay showed her with as much space between her hand and the ball as she had with the touchline. Not much but just enough to deny them the try. 

From the restart, the Blues strung together a beautiful passage of interplay between their forwards and backs – Jaymie Kolose, Charmaine McMenanim, Chryss Viliko and Cottrell were all involved in the surging run up the field, which was finished by Patricia Maliepo. This shot of confidence was just what the Blues needed and they launched wave after wave of attack. 

Matatū did themselves no favours with clearance kicks more often than not finding the hands of the Blues players. Cottrelll, the Hawke’s Bay bush trapper, hasn’t had much of a chance to feature in this competition to date due to the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle, but she was simply outstanding for the Blues. With 11 minutes to go, they finally regained the lead through Liana Mikaele-Tu’u.

Matatū fought right back, with Marcelle Parkes linking with Amy Du Plessis to go very close before Robins-Reti finished. Renee Holmes erased any bad memories of previous pressure kicks and nailed the all important conversion, putting Matatū back three points ahead with six minutes left. 

The Blues put the pressure on, pouncing on loose ball. They broke up the field and collected a handy penalty, pinning it in the corner to set up a lineout in prime position. But Matatū had super sub Steph Te Ohaere-Fox, who has all the experience you need in moments like these. She worked through the maul to latch onto the ball and was not letting go of this opportunity – Matatū, who won no games last season, are now into the grand final. 

Matatū 26 – Blues 23

Chiefs Manawa vs Hurricanes Poua

The Poua were chasing history as well as a spot in the final, hoping to be the first ever team to beat Manawa. The only trouble is this Manawa team are the complete package. They can take you on up front, bullying you at scrum time and launching off their lineouts, or they can shift it wide to their electric backline. They did both to score their first try. A strong maul off a lineout went close, before they shifted it to Carla Hohepa who sold a dummy and left foot step combo to score. 

Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate has had a triumphant return to form this season, and it was a joy for rugby fans to see her playing with confidence and crashing over the line to bring the scoreline level for the Poua. The Poua play like any good Hurricanes side though, which means they do something brilliant and follow it with something heartbreaking. Today, that heartbreak comes in the form of their painful scrums. 

Manawa’s scrum dominance opened up their second tryscoring opportunity, taken by Tenika Willison, before their mighty maul muscled up and Luka Connor scored for what seemed like the 100th time this season. The game got scrappy at times, but so long as they stayed away from set piece, the Poua managed to hold their own. An important try closed the gap to 21-12 at the half. 

But true to form, the Poua’s brilliant finish to the first half was followed by a heartbreaking start of the second, the Manawa scrum driving over the tryline leaving Kennedy Simon to simply decide when to score off the back. The Poua weren’t going to give up, though, and kept hopes alive when Layla Sae scored in the corner and Isabella Waterman converts a tricky one from the sideline. 

That would be as good as it got for the Poua, however – Willison soon picked up her second try for the Manawa, before Krystal Murray was sidelined with injury and Joanah Ngan-Woo joined her shortly after, carded for repeatedly interfering with the Manawa mauls. With two of the Poua’s three current Black Ferns off the pitch, the Manawa put their foot down, crushing any chance of a fairytale finish for the underdogs.

Chiefs Manawa 43 – Horricanes Poua 21

Coming up…

This year’s final is an elevation of the Canterbury-Waikato rivalry that has emerged at provincial level in the Farah Palmer Cup over the last few years. If those games are anything to go by – Canterbury won the 2020 final 8-7, Waikato won the 2021 final 22-20 – we can expect a very tight contest. 

If Matatū are to hand the Manawa their first ever Super Rugby Aupiki defeat, they will need to deliver a full 80 minute performance. Every game they have played this season has come down to the wire as they have been guilty of falling asleep at times or not finishing sure things. It’s in them, they just need to weave together their best bits to put on a performance strong enough to weather what Manawa will throw at them. 

Manawa just need to be Manawa – after all, that’s what has established them as the benchmark of this competition. They will need to trust in the strength of their forward pack and let their backs continue to express themselves. If they are going to kick, it will need to be for touch or their wingers’ hands. Anything else is just gifting their opposition an opportunity to stay in the game. 

They have a curtain raiser to this match, with the Blues and Poua playing off for third and fourth. This will be a game for pride and both sides will have plenty to prove after coming up short in their semi finals.

Semi Final Awards

Fans Favourite: The Digger Cheerleaders bringing all the hype you didn’t know you needed.

Goldfish: Renee Holmes forgetting her past pressure kicking woes to nail the kick Matatū needed.

Time Travellers: Steph Te Ohaere-Fox and Carla Hohepa, playing like they’re back at the 2010 Rugby World Cup.

Keep going!