New Plymouth Old Boys have opened up a 10 point gap on the rest of the teams in the Taranaki premier rugby competition after a 34-12 win over Tukapa.
The victory guarantees Old Boys will have a home semifinal with just two games left in the regular season.
While the margin of the winy was somewhat flattering, there was plenty of character shown by the Old Boys players in front a good crowd at Sanders Park.
Playing with a strong wind in the first half, Old Boys opened up the scoring with a try to wing Logan Rei after he won the race for the ball after it had been kicked through and Tukapa wing Eli Kneepkens allowed it to roll over the line.
Far from letting the mistake get to them, Tukapa dominated the next period of play and scored through No 8 Adrian Wyrill following a tap penalty and drive for the line.
They extended that lead after Codey Rei had a clearance kicked charged down which was pounced on by flanker Du’Plessis Ariu Kirifi who scored.
Tukapa continued to pressure Old Boys into mistakes and looked certain to take a lead into the break until Old Boys managed to put some good phases together before first five-eighth Daniel Waite stretched the defence enough to score near the posts.
Despite being behind 14-12 at the break, Tukapa would have been buoyed going into the second half such was the strength of the wind.
They would have also been happy with the work of visiting first class referee Jamie Nutbrown, who came up with eight penalties in their favour in the first 40 minutes, while Old Boys failed to win one.
Tukapa started the second half strongly as well, as they dominated territory while putting Old Boys under some real pressure close to their line.
However, the loss of captain Leighton Price to a hamstring injury meant Tukapa lacked a bit of muscle up front and Old Boys extended their lead when Codey Rei landed a 30m penalty.
While the gap remained manageable for Tukapa, Old Boys started to win the battle at the breakdown and improved their general play before Waite came up with a second try late in the match after he found a yawning gap through the middle of the park before beating the cover defence to score under the posts.
Codey Rei then added a second try right on fulltime to blow the score out.
As was the case in the first half, the team playing into the wind found favour with Nutbrown as Old Boys got five unanswered penalties.
There were plenty of notable performances in both sides.
The Rei brothers were impressive with the vast majority of their play, the forward park worked tirelessly, especially young lock Fin Hoeata.
For Tukapa, second five-eighth Daniel Bernet was strong with his ball carrying and sound in his defence, while Wyrill and Kirifi were never far from the action.
The only downside to the match was some of the option taking, especially close to the line, when a number of opportunities could have been converted had players shown some patience.
Old Boys co-coach Michael Carr was not prepared to criticise his players who he thought had worked really hard to achieve such a positive result.
“To be fair Tukapa dominated the breakdown in the first half and they made some really good decisions into the wind,” he said.
“We knew we had to turn around and do the same thing. We just had to make sure we were putting guys on the ground.”
He thought it was a “great” Old Boys and Tukapa battle full of aggression at the breakdown.
“I was really proud of the boys in the way they came back and played into that wind. I thought we played some really enterprising rugby and got the balance right in the second half.”
Elsewhere, Clifton and Coastal played out an entertaining match in Tikorangi with the former coming out 32-29 victors after a late Sione Lea try.
Clifton started the match really well and shot out to a good lead before Coastal came back well to narrow the margin to just three points at halftime.
The lead see-sawed in the last 20 minutes before Lea grabbed the match winner in the 78th minute.
The win keeps Clifton’s top four hopes alive while the two bonus points Coastal collected has them just a point off fourth place.
Clifton wing Jordan Mellars-Rose scored a hat-trick of tries within the first 25 minutes in a strong performance, while Lea showed his worth in an excellent effort as he carried well and was extremely strong in defence.
Openside flanker Jake Ward was another to impress for Clifton.
For Coastal, first five-eighth Dave Walker got their most valuable player award, with blindside flanker Dylan Juffermans and halfback Brett Goodin also performing well.
Spotswood United got a valuable 13-5 win over Southern in Hawera to maintain third position on the table.
It was a tough game played in trying conditions. Spotswood United dominated the opening 20 minutes without managing to build up a decent lead.
Southern would have turned with the win confident they could take out the match but just made too many mistakes.
Spotswood United prop Bradley Chubb led from the front in the second half as Spotswood United ground their way to victory.
He had good support from locks Callum Morrison and Blake Irving while wing Manasa Matele scored two tries.
Southern’s best players were hooker Kent Myers, flanker Dylan Kerei and wing Luke Taplin.
Inglewood beat Stratford 15-0 in the remaining game which was played on Friday night. The victory moved the defending champions up to fourth on the table.