What a cracker of a semi-final under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium!
The game started off well, with a line out to Otago won by lock Kate Smith, and a good break from mid-fielder Greer Muir. A penalty here saw the Spirit kick for touch and Captain Angie Sisifa won the lineout from the back, leading into a strong maul towards the try line, however Otago were unable to finish the job. A subsequent lineout to North Harbour saw a good break by the forwards but this was quickly turned over by Otago with a good hit-up by hooker Tegan Hollows. The ball rapidly changed possession back to North Harbour again, who tried for the kick down field to get out from their own 22. However they didn’t account for the charge down from flanker Georgia Mason who then recovered the ball and dotted it down over the try line!
Three minutes into the first half and Otago Spirit already leading 5-0. Some messy play from both sides but Otago winger Cheyenne Cunningham managed to make a break down the sideline and the ball then moved back infield to see Sisifa score under the posts.
North Harbour then began a relentless attack on the Otago try line, but the Spirit kept up their defence, and the Hibiscus couldn’t prevail. The first scrum of the match saw a very strong North Harbour forward pack dominate and win their own ball. Lots of good phase play from both sides, with North Harbour having several opportunities, but they were unable to finish it off. Eventually at the 19 minute mark, their number 4 Sophie Fisher scored a great try which she then converted, bring the score to 10-7.
A massive head high by North Harbour number 8 Jemma Palmer saw a penalty to Otago, but no further discipline from the referee, much to the frustration of Otago fans in the stands. This led to another great team try for the Spirit, scored by Sisifa, which was converted by Liv Waldron, taking Otago’s lead to 17-7. Unfortunately at this point, North Harbour lost Palmer to injury, and she was replaced by Alexa Fraser.
While North Harbour dominated the scrums, Otago was clearly out-performing them in the lineouts, with great performances from jumpers Sisifa and Smith. The rest of the first half seemed a bit shaky, as the score still remained relatively close. North Harbour continued to get close, but they still couldn’t get through the impenetrable defence of Otago. Otago almost had their own attempt at the North Harbour line but an unlucky last minute fumble saw the first half end with the score still 17-7.
To begin the second half Pia Tapsell of North Harbour had a good break early on, but this was quickly turned back to Otago, with a good run by prop Isla Pringle and subsequently an excellent break down the sideline by Hollows. At the 58 minute mark some good hustle from North Harbour saw number 12 Laishon Jones get over the line bringing the score closer, 17-12. A great run by Sisifa and fullback Sheree Hume brought Otago into the North Harbour 22 metre zone, and a subsequent penalty against Harbour saw Tapsell receive a trip to the sin bin. Here Otago seemed to be pressuring themselves for the try, and almost lost the opportunity until a massive overlap in the back line moved the ball out to Mason who scored in the corner. Otago were now ahead 22-12.
Not long after this, a great break from lock Jess Kendall and Sisifa, saw Otago receive another penalty. Here, a tap and go by Muir saw another try to the Spirit, with only 12 mins to go.
Once again another good tap and go decision by replacement half-back Leyhana van Vugt saw the ball being passed out to number 22 Kilistina Moata’ane on the wing for another try. Otago had the lead 32-12.
North Harbour continued to play hard, but Otago was really fired up now. North Harbour performed another relentless attack on the Otago line, almost scoring, only for it to be held up. A subsequent penalty saw them come close again only for Cunningham to intercept the ball, who then popped it off to Moata’ane. This resulted in a full field try by Moata’ane with a great side-step to avoid the North Harbour defence, which was converted by Hume.
The hooter then signalled the end of the match and the ball was kicked to touch by van Vugt, the final score 39-12.
This will see the Otago Spirit travelling up North next weekend to take on Bay of Plenty in the finals.
by Zahra Shahtahmasebi