Harlequins set up showdown with Waitohi
Story by: - Photo by: Gavin Hadfield/shuttersport
Harlequins 27-19 victory over Awatere sets up a clash with Waitohi in the Marlborough Premier Final.
Harlequins stormed through the first round of the competition in grand style, tripped up in round two but over the last two weeks have showed impressive fighting qualities in coming from behind to win and give themselves a great shot at the title.
Awatere were always the underdogs but played anything like that for sustained periods of the first half. David Pope missed two early shots at goal for Awatere, one from near halfway, but it was Harlequins who struck first when lock Nick Allen strode through a gaping hole in the defence to run 20m and score.
Harlequins halfback Daniel MacDonald was yellow carded by referee Mark Andrell for slowing down possession and from the resulting penalty Pope kicked a goal to close the gap.
Awatere turned up the heat but a dropped pass ruined a move which looked likely to yield a try.
Pope kicked his second penalty as the Awatere forwards started to dominate, then second-five Stu Dudley hit a short ball at pace to score. Pope converted then added another penalty and by halftime Awatere looked in the boxseat 16-7 up and on top in the territory and possession stakes.
However, the Quins came out firing, Hayden Cripps narrowed the gap with two penalties then engineered a fine try to speedy wing George Millar who sped onto a perfectly weighted cross kick and burst past the remaining defenders. The try resulted from an Awatere turnover up the other end of the field.
Awatere obviously didn't heed that lesson and were punished again after turning the ball over, this time wing Richie Tau'alupe scoring a brilliant long-range solo try with 10 minutes remaining.
Cripps converted and although Awatere never stopped trying, they could not close the gap.
Awatere will reflect as to why they did not continue with their first half approach of playing it to their strengths close in. Harlequins on the other hand would be delighted the way their forwards turned things around when it counted.
Props Tim Perry and Fetu Ieremia and lock Nick Allen led Harlequins' forward effort with MacDonald and Cripps more influential in the second half as they got more possession.
For Awatere, loose forwards Jordan Judge, Sam Lunn and Gareth Archer hoed into their work, as did prop Paul Hickman. Kieran Hickman, playing on the wing and with one leg heavily strapped was Awatere's best back with halfback Sam Clouston and second-five Dudley also having good games.
There's no question the two best teams in Marlborough are squaring off in the grand final, a classic town versus country scenario at Marlborough rugby headquarters on Saturday.
Harlequins 27 (Nick Allen, George Millar, Richie Tau'alupe tries, Hayden Cripps 3 con, 2 pen) Awatere 16 (Stu Dudley try, David Poe con, 3 pen). Half-time: Awatere 16-7