The top two teams from the regular season will compete in the final of next week’s Farah Palmer Cup – New Zealand’s National Provincial Championship.
Hannah Brough of Waikato eludes Lucy Jenkins of Canterbury for a try the Farah Palmer Cup semifinal, won by Canterbury. (John Davidson / www.photosport.nz)
The first semi-final was a repeat of last year’s final, with Counties Manukau surviving a tough battle by Auckland at the ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe.
Counties had the best of the opening exchanges, with Hazel Tubic's gave Counties an early lead with a penalty after four minutes, but a missed penalty after 11 minutes resulted in the games opening try, Auckland retaining possession from the resulting drop-out, Hinemoa Watene racing away to score. Auckland were now brimming with confidence, and on 16m Emma Jensen found a gap in the line to go under the posts. Auckland now lead 12-5.
Counties regrouped, however, and in the 25th minute were rewarded with a try from tight-head Te Kura Ngata-Aerenamate, after a great battling run from prop Aotearoa Matau – but Auckland still lead 12-10 at halftime.
The power of Counties forwards continued to be an issue, and six minutes into the second half it was loose head Leilani Perese who battled through to put the champions in the lead, 15-12. Auckland dominated the next, but failed to score, unlike Counties who finally broke out and added a third try from Timara Leaf. Mele Hufanga pulled a try back for Auckland, but it was not enough to prevent the champions from defending their title.
In the final they will play Canterbury, the only team to beat them in the regular season, who qualified courtesy of a rather more one-sided 60-26, 10 tries to four, win over Waikato at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Canterbury and Waikato set a huge example ahead of the Canterbury men's semifinal against North Harbour, with both sides covering every inch of the field with ball in hand.
Canterbury had to fight early as the Waikato backs went at them hard on attack, while their defence did not buckle for the first 20 minutes. It was Canterbury's speedy winger Grace Brooker who was able to take the first opportunity, diving under the posts after a huge overlap in attack. Waikato responded the way they have all season, this time through the brilliant individual effort of second-five Ryleigh Hayes who stepped two Canterbury players off her left foot and ran all the way under the posts.
Canterbury's discipline was rewarded with a breakaway try from the fastest player on the paddock, winger Sam Curtis. Kendra Cocksedge then went over for Canterbury's third try off an easy set-piece move. Waikato's Hannah Brough had the run of the match when she stepped and out sprinted Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge to the line. Brough was put into the gap through a clever pass from Natua to close the scores to 19-14. An easy overlap led to Canterbury's fourth try through Curtis on the wing. Waikato weren't giving up the fight. Awarded a penalty in front of the post they opted for the tap and go and sent it out wide for Brough's second try of the match.
Just before halftime Canterbury were able to bowl over through Jess Hansen, daughter of All Black coach Steve Hansen taking the gap to 31-19 at the break.
Canterbury midfielder and star of the season Corrina Whiley struck early in the second half with her speed through the centre, untouched by a tired Waikato defence and in for her first of two tries. After this the second half slowed down, with Canterbury having to defend their line for about 15 minutes. Eventually Waikato were rewarded for their persistence through stocky replacement halfback Teirea Te Aho after the decision was sent upstairs to the video referee.
Canterbury responded almost immediately at the other end through Brooker on the wing for her second and then another for Whiley - deflating Waikato's confidence and in doing so securing themselves a final against Counties Manukau.
Also next week Otago will to play Bay of Plenty in the Championship final and a place in next year’s premiership after beating North Harbour at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin 39-12.
Counties Manukau 22 (Te Kura Ngata-Aerenamate, Leilani Perese, Timara Leaf tries; Hazel Tubic 2 con, pen) Auckland 17 (Hinemoa Watene, Emmen Jensen, Mele Hufanga tries; Jensen con). HT: 12-10
Canterbury 60 (Grace Brooker 2, Sam Curtis 2, Phillipa Love, Corrina Whiley 2, Kendra Cocksedge, Estelle Wren, Stephanie Te Ohaere Fox tries; Cocksedge 5 con) Waikato 26 (Ryleigh Hayes, Hannah Brough 2, Emma-Lee Heta tries; Ariana Bayler 2, Chelsea Alley con). HT: 31-19
Championship final qualifier
Otago 39 (Georgia Mason 2, Angie Sisifa 2, Greer Muir, Tina Moata'ane 2 tries; Olivia Waldron con, Sheree Hume con) North Harbour 12 (Sophie Fisher, Alexa Fraser tries; Fisher con)