Portia x4
Portia Woodman of Counties makes a break during the Farah Palmer Cup Semi Final match between Counties Manukau and Wellington at ECOLight Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Pukekohe, New Zealand. (Photo by Simon Watts/Getty Images)

Over the last six weeks, women’s provincial rugby sides have battled for national supremacy. Nine teams faced the other, to reach the final of the Farah Palmer Cup. Over two hours on Saturday, four sides fought it out in the semi final matches, to decide the two best women’s sides in New Zealand.

Farah Palmer Cup semi finals 2016

In Pukekohe, South Auckland, Counties-Manukau hosted the Wellington women’s side. On a very wet Saturday, everything went right for the local girls. Whatever they did, worked and in an incredibly one-sided match, they won 60-7.

Hazel Tubic
Hazel Tubic breaks the tackle of Monica Tagoai during the Farah Palmer Cup Semi Final match ECOLight Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Pukekohe, New Zealand. (Photo by Simon Watts/Getty Images)

Counties-Manukau run away in semi final onslaught

Unheralded in it’s one-sided nature, the James Porter coached Wellington Pride had the carpet pulled from underneath them. It would have hurt the women, but the skillset on show by the Counties Heat was clear. More committed, more assertive and able to convert their chances. Hazel Tubic (above) was a big contributor.

The Heat epitomized how a team should play in a semi final–their Men’s team should learn from their display.

Counties Manukau 60: Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, Aotearoa Matau, Sharnita Woodman (2), Portia Woodman (4), Renee Wickliffe, Hazel Tubic tries; Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali con (1), Hazel Tubic con (4)

Wellington 7: Lizzie Goulden try; Amanda Rasch con (1)

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Across town at Colin Maiden Park, the Auckland team hosted Canterbury. This reporter took the time to brave the elements and stood to watch and enjoy the women’s semi final match.

Auckland ‘storm’ into final with solid performance

With numerous titles, Auckland are a powerful force in women’s rugby. They have a pedigree that ensures the side is competitive. They would need it, as the Canterbury side were determined to hold their own. After the narrow 25-29 win early in the season, and with a favourable wind behind them, the visitors held some early advantage.

Pushing into Storm territory, it took everything for the home side to hold out the challenge. Repelling attack, Auckland used the right hand wing to penetrate, the forwards drove well enough but they needed an intercept by Tyla Nathan-Wong to edge 10-3 at halftime.

Now with the wind at their backs, Auckland knew what to do. Use territory and play a waiting game. It was beginning to work before a silly lineout infringement was judged worthy of a Yellow Card [hardly] and Canterbury were given an advantage.

Canterbury given an advantage

At this stage, down 10-3 but with one more player, they needed to be methodical. At a scrum, Auckland were missing a lock–the southern team had to be set to attack, but sadly they were penalized for an early engagement. That turned into another penalty which Emma Jensen slotted. It was a key moment–Canterbury lacked composure and lost that advantage.

Momentum now went Auckland’s way and they used a kick-return well, pushing down field and spread the ball quickly right to score out wide. Soon enough after, a second penetration into the opposition ‘red zone’ resulted in the third try, to Kiritapu Demant. A real blow by the reigning champions, it must have sapped the visitors energy, as they did little more to pressure Auckland.

Not even the rousing calls of halfback Kendra Cocksedge could raise the visitors. Over the match, her distribution was assured–even as others handling let them down. There were good exchanges, but often the interplay between team mates just could not get them on a roll (or ahead on the scoreboard).

Auckland 33: F Faamausili, Kiritapu Demant, Tyla Nathan-Wong (2) tries; Emma Jensen con (2) pen(3)

Canterbury 3: Kendra Cocksedge pen (1).

MVP – Portia Woodman

With a new braided haircut (see main photo), courtesy of a holiday in Thailand, the flying winger captivated the match with four tries to reinforce her attacking game. With a cheeky intercept thrown in, Woodman’s ability to smell out the tryline is well known.

The World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Year fits comfortably back in the XV’s game. Always ready to work, she is adaptable on defense and then so very fast to stretch her opponents to breaking point in attack.

FARAH PALMER CUP FINAL 2016

Counties-Manukau v Auckland – 2:35pm, ECOlight Stadium, Pukekohe

This final is the one most commentators will have assumed. Possibly inverted, with Auckland the unbeaten team, so that is the surprise–which is better for the women’s game.

Auckland have so much experience, they may have some new team members but are strewn with players who have been in a Final. That will count for much, but Davida White must ‘cool her girls’ to not boil-over before the match. A key ingredient that winning teams have is that they can absorb…and manage the internal pressure.

The ‘bubbling’ will occur over the week. Players will feed off each others energy, off the unions promotional work. They will enjoy positive social media, request from News organisations and with national news items published through the week. Sports media will focus on both sides, anticipating each teams chances.

FPC
Farah Palmer Cup digital graphic

High pressure in lead up to Grand Final

Some will handle this expectation well, while others are overwhelmed. The team who can manage that element will go into the match with a clear understanding of what they need to do. Auckland could be that side, with the organisation and resources behind them to promote that.

Don’t tell anyone from the Counties union that though. The so called ‘smaller brother’ to Auckland, both Men’s and Women’s teams in fact have beaten their neighbours this season, so that is their advantage (in rugby terms). It will definitely help.

And by 2:35pm on Sunday, the fans will be in place, the cameras will be ready as the two sides do battle. It will be a great match, no doubt. The two best sides will ‘bring their game’ and expect it to be a fierce contest.

All the very best to both sides.

 

“Main photo credit”

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