Decisive week for semis hopefuls
Four teams in chase for spots
If the penultimate round of premier rugby were moving day for the top six sides, then this week is D-Day for four of them chasing the final two semifinal places.
New Plymouth Old Boys and Coastal have booked themselves semifinal spots but that is the only certainty with one week to play in round-robin action.
Old Boys guaranteed themselves a home semifinal after they beat arch rivals Tukapa 22-14 at Vogeltown Park, while Southern’s upset 19-18 win over Inglewood on Friday night means Coastal need only a point next week against Clifton to book a home playoff.
Although Tukapa lost, they still have a chance to make it into the top four if they can beat Spotswood United next week and Clifton lose to Coastal.
Conversely, Spotswood United can still make it if they beat Tukapa and Clifton lost to Coastal.
Inglewood could also miss out if Clifton and Spotswood United both win and they fail to get a bonus point against Old Boys.
One thing is certain, the phones will be ringing at all the venues on Saturday as some teams wait to hear if their season is extended for another week.
The JD Hickman feature match was a tight and tense affair at Yarrow Stadium where Clifton kept their playoff hopes alive with a nail-biting 21-17 win over Spotswood United.
It was so close, Spotswood United could have grabbed the win in the final play of the game as wing Dion Beer went within a whisker of scoring in the corner.
Had it not been for a tremendous covering tackle by Clifton centre Josh Kendall, his side would have been heading into its showdown with Coastal with little to play for.
Kendall’s heroics typified the urgency and desire both sides played with for the entire match as the crowd was kept on edge.
Just about every play felt as if it had the match riding on it, the lead changing hands several times as each side tried everything it could to get a break on its opposition.
‘‘It was just ticker that got us through in the end,’’ exhausted Clifton captain Chris Black said after the match.
‘‘We probably didn’t put enough points on in the first half when we had them stretched there but to hold on like we did, that leaves us in good stead going forward.’’
Hold on they certainly had to as Spotswood United pounded their line late in the match after they were awarded a succession of penalties.
The desperation from both sides could be seen clearly as they were cheered on from the sidelines.
‘‘We put ourselves under a bit too much pressure really, but I guess that just shows the attitude of the boys,’’ Black said.
The win moved Clifton up to fourth place and gave them a real shot at making back-to-back semifinals when it appeared earlier in the season they were not going to be good enough.
Black conceded they might have played with a bit of nerves in the second half but he paid credit to the way Spotswood United attacked them.
If there were a difference between the two sides, then it was probably the impact Clifton got off their bench, a luxury Spotswood United did not have with their de- pleted squad, which has been hit hard by injuries.
‘‘I’m absolutely stuffed,’’ Spotswood United captain Warwick Lahmert said.
‘‘The tempo was fast, it was really fast rugby. I take my hat off to the boys, they are playing awesome. We have obviously had injuries at the wrong time of the season but that’s rugby and I’m still really impressed with the way the team is going at the moment.’’
Lahmert was one of the standouts in the match, along with the key players from both sides who performed to a standard they need to at this time of the season.
Elsewhere, Coastal all but secured a home semifinal after a hard-fought 31-8 win over bottom- placed Stratford at Opunake.
Coastal coach Joe Lawn said Stratford really put pressure on them for long periods, playing above their position on the table.
He was delighted to have scored a bonus-point try as he, too, battles to get a full squad on the field.
Such is their predicament, retired players Phil Barron and Nick Lawn have had to find their boots and sit on the reserves bench.
Joe Lawn said halfback Brett Goodin was again a standout, while lock Andy Lane gave him real impact off the bench.
Rick McKenna coped well with having to cover second five-eighth, fullback and halfback.
Southern rewarded their faithful supporters with a gutsy win over Inglewood.
Former All Blacks lock Jarrad Hoeata made a rare appearance for Southern and made an impact in the second half when he was introduced, while his brother, Ricki, had another standout match.
The win was not secured until the last minute when Daniel Brooks landed a conversion from near the sideline.
Inglewood co-captain Berny Hall scored two tries in a good personal performance.
The loss has the potential to be really significant for Inglewood, especially if they lose to Old Boys and other results go against them.
Head high: Clifton fullback Beaudein Waaka is collared by Spotswood lock Blake Irving during Saturday’s premier rugby match. Irving escaped punishment after the referee spoke to another player.