By Dan Tasker
The Southern Bush Pigs will get the opportunity to defend their Under 85kg National Club Cup title against the Auckland University Debt Collectors on the mainstage in this weekend, ahead of the All Blacks v Argenitina Test at Hamilton’s FMG Stadium Waikato.
For the Bushies (Otago), it was zero to 100 against the Karaka Razzlers (Counties-Manukau) as winger Tom Rance galloped in the first of his two tries for the afternoon inside the opening minute before going on to an overwhelming 48-5 victory.
A classy, almost flawless first half across the park saw Southern take a 27-0 halftime lead at South Dunedin’s Bathgate Park, with tries to Rance (2), Matt McCutcheon and Charlie Marsh essentially shutting the door on Karaka’s finals ambitions.
The Razzlers were better in the second period, particular combative No. 8 Sunia Vosikata, and were rewarded meagerly with a try to fullback Lorenz Ewe-Gardner.
Featuring for the Bush Pigs were classy backs Josh Buchan at centre and fullback Mackenzie Haugh, who attacked from everywhere and bagged a try each in the second half, while mobile blindside flanker McCutcheon showed plenty throughout and ran in a 45m intercept for his double in the 55th minute.
In contrast, the Debt Collectors (Auckland) had to go the full 80 minutes to finally bury a courageous College Rifles Bombers (Auckland) 16-11 at a windy College Rifles Park in Remuera to book a place in their first knockout cup final.
It was a battle of defensive lines but it was the Debt Collectors who went the distance to progress to the big dance, with coach Cory Larsen underlining defensive effort as a theme of their season.
“Something we’ve prided ourselves on all year is our defence, ensuring we’ve got as many players on their feet as possible and trusting our defensive line wouldn’t fold. There was a lot of heart from the boys, especially in the last 20 minutes.
“We just want to enjoy the week ahead as our last week together. We’ll go out there and enjoy it and show what the Debt Collectors are all about and play some exciting footy for everyone,” he said.
After trading early penalties, the Debts wrestled back a slim 6-3 advantage in the 35th minute thanks to a James Brosnahan penalty to lead at the break.
Defensive cracks finally began to show when halfback Callum Brown snuck over to give College Rifles an 8-6 lead after 56 minutes.
Making use of the wind at their backs, Brosnahan knocked over a long-range 50m penalty to wrestle the lead back and then extending it when flanker Cory Morrison drove over the try-line to make it 16-8 with 15 minutes to play.
Auckland University’s relentless defence kept taking time out of the game as College Rifles patiently pushed for a try, but with the clock running down, George Witana took an easy three points with the hope of a late try to bridge the gap, but it wasn’t to be.
The 2022 Under 85kg National Club Cup Final between Southern Bush Pigs and University of Auckland Debt Collectors kicks off at 4.15pm on Saturday 3 September, at FMG Stadium Waikato. You can also catch the action live on Sky Sport.