RUGBY - NGATI Porou East Coast will meet Wanganui on Saturday in a repeat of last season’s Meads Cup final after beating North Otago 26-15 at Ruatoria at the weekend . . . but this time reigning champions Wanganui will not have home advantage.
The “Butcher Boys” must travel to Whakarua Park, where the Sky Blues beat them 25-17 in round five of the Heartland Championship, and where the Coast have not lost a game since Ngarimu Simpkins and Rua Tipoki took over as coaches at the start of 2011.
“To make back-to-back finals is a huge achievement for everyone involved,” said hooker Simpkins, who led from the front after skipper and second five Tipoki was ruled out of the starting line-up just before kick-off.
“Rua was still feeling a bit sore with his groin and we agreed it was better to bring him on from the bench.
“That we were able to leave it until 20 minutes from the end says a lot for the character and quality of the squad.
“Pomare Samupo, who moved into second five, and TK Moeke, who went to centre, stepped up when it counted. They weren’t the only ones . . . they all stood up.”
Moeke was magnificent on attack and defence and would have walked away with the man of the match award had it not been for an equally outstanding performance from Simpkins.
Coach not only took over as captain, he showed his class in his core roles — anchoring the scrum, being on the money with his lineout throws and never being found wanting when it came to “getting down and dirty”.
He also demonstrated previously unseen chip-and-chase kicking skills.
Quick thinking by Simpkins paved the way for the opening try in the 20th minute after North Otago second five Billy Guyton and Coast first five John Semple had traded penalty kicks.
Coast halfback Charlie Harrison, another five-star man, forced a knock-on which then led to a penalty 25 metres from the tryline and 30m in from the right touchline.
The crowd were screaming for a shot at goal but Simpkins tapped and charged at the line. Desperate defence kept the Coast out before Harrison switched play to the left and Semple showed great determination to score in the corner for an 8-3 lead.
With the Coast pack dominating, another five-pointer seemed inevitable.
But their all-out attacking style comes with a risk, and when a pass failed to stick, North Otago halfback Tala Fagasoaia pounced and dotted down between the posts.
Guyton’s conversion gave the visitors a 10-8 halftime lead.
Semple edged the Coast ahead with a penalty inside the first minute of the second half, only for the Southerners to punish another turnover — openside flanker Jack Wolfreys scoring in the corner to make it 15-11.
Moeke continued to cause North Otago problems with his strong, straight running.
From another of his breaks the Coast were awarded a penalty and Semple closed the deficit to 15-14.
With the 500-strong crowd cheering them on, the Coast hit the front in the 58th minute . . . another tremendous display from openside flanker Brent Ingram was rewarded with a try set up in unlikely fashion.
Simpkins chipped the ball over the heads of two defenders and as a covering player collected the ball, he lined him up and the ball was knocked on. Semple toed the ball ahead and forced the last defender to take the ball over the touchline inside the 22.
Simpkins raced to retrieve the ball and fired it to prop Ziggy Fisihoi, who headed for the posts, only to be held up. When the ball was recycled to the right, Ingram was not about to be denied.
Two minutes later, Tipoki came on and made an immediate impact with a tackle that had “welcome to Rua-toria” all over it.
The general of the side was not about to miss out on the glory and, after Moeke and fullback Verdon Bartlett had combined to deny North Otago a try, Tipoki put through the perfect grubber-kick, which again forced a defender to take the ball into touch inside the 22.
Simpkins was spot-on with the throw and after the ball went through the hands of Harrison, Semple, Moeke and Tipoki, big lock Everard Reid was on hand to seal the win.
Other Coast players worthy of mention were prop Tripoli Poi, lock Kerehama Blackman, No.8 Morgan WiRepa junior, Bartlett and blindside flanker Tanetoa Parata, who is having a superb season.
Pound for pound, Parata is one of the most committed tacklers in the side.
Wingers Whaimotu Craft-Chemis and Tom Teaeki did not get many chances to show their attacking skills but both looked lively with ball in hand.