West Taieri is the Southern Region Rugby champion for the 2023 season after beating Clutha 28-23 in a blockbuster match in front of a packed house at Outram on Saturday.

The first half of the match was a tight tussle with neither side managing to take control.

The levels of physicality started at hard and finished at extreme as both forward packs threw themselves into contact with reckless abandon.

After the first 10 minutes fought in the middle of the field, West Taieri scored the opening try through hooker Luke Moeke, who beat several defenders down the short side to open his side’s account.

Callum Smeaton had no issue converting the try for a 7-0 lead.

West Taieri has had a penchant for starting well this season and Clutha needed to stay in touch, which it did through lock Bax Colley, who barged his way over after a period of sustained pressure.

The teams traded penalties as the first half came to a close with West Taieri ahead 10-8.

Clutha came out with purpose in the second half and opened the scoring through a Sam Stratford penalty, which was followed up by a try to No 8 Kael Merrett after numerous phases close to the tryline.

This gave Clutha a 16-10 lead, and momentum.

Cheered on by a massive crowd, West Taieri began to assert itself up front.

Its close forward runners broke the advantage line and the backs revelled with front-foot ball. Sustained pressure and some quick ruck ball allowed West Taieri lock Jordan Bell to cross the chalk, and with the successful conversion, the home side took the lead back.

West Taieri used the momentum to great effect, forcing Clutha to give away a kickable penalty which Smeaton accepted again.

This was followed up by a close-range try to halfback Jackson Reid to extend West Taieri’s lead.

Then things shifted in Clutha’s favour.

The visitors grew another leg and mounted a full-scale assault on the West Taieri goal line.

Constant pressure forced West Taieri into giving away numerous penalties, one of which led to prop Reggie Masina sitting out 10 minutes of the game.

Clutha blew numerous chances out wide by not releasing the final pass but was finally rewarded for its troubles with a converted try.

An offensive penalty by Clutha allowed the home side to clear its lines.

From there, another infringement saw Smeaton kick over a close-range penalty that would be the last scoring play as West Taieri won the match in a huge effort.

West Taieri’s win was built on a stable first-half platform, but its ability to turn territory into points in the second half was key.

Its second-half defence was also a huge factor as Clutha threw everything at the tryline.

Clutha was up for the challenge but a few missed opportunities out wide cost it in the second half.

The visitors also left four players unused on the bench, which may well have been costly.

Light fantastic . . . Clutha’s Kurt Turnbull attempts to weave his way past the West Taieri defence while team-mate Paul Papalii looks on.
Reflection . . . Clutha’s Paul Papalii contemplates what might have been following his side’s loss to West Taieri.
Say it . . . Clutha supporters were out in force during their team’s final against West Taieri.
Getaway . . . Clutha’s Sylvester Reeves (left) attempts to accelerate away from West Taieri’s Jake Hamer.
Teamwork . . . West Taieri’s Kent Duncan (left) takes on Clutha trio (from second left) Max Pennell, Josh Turnbull and Bax Colley during the teams’ final in Outram on Saturday. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON