The Otago Spirit’s flawless season came to end at the hands of the Hawke’s Bay Tui in the Farah Palmer Cup championship final in Balclutha on Saturday.
Hawke’s Bay won 24›20, but it could have been very different for the home side.
The first half was edged narrowly by Otago in terms of territory and possession, but Hawke’s Bay was clinical in possession and made the most of its limited opportunities.
The visitor opened the scoring through second›five Jaimee Robin, who found a gap in the defence after a strong carry from midfield partner Amelia Pasikala.
The home side fought its way on to the attack from the restart and an extended period of possession was finished off by centre Cheyenne Cunningham.
Georgia Cormick converted the try from out wide to level the scores, before Hawke’s Bay capitalised on an Otago error to find some rare field position that resulted in a successfully taken penalty to Krysten Cottrell.
The fast›paced nature of the half continued, with both sides spurning fantastic opportunities.
Otago was next to cross the chalk through flanker Leah Miles, who burrowed her way over from close range.
Cormick’s conversion was successful, which put Otago 14›10 ahead.
The remainder of the half was controlled by Otago, which would get into a scoring position, only to gift Hawke’s Bay possession on the counter.
The Tui scored on the half› hour mark after a trademark counter›attack was finished off by winger Leilani Hakiwai.
A successful conversion to Hawke’s Bay, and a late Cormick penalty for Otago, ensured the game was tied 17›17 at the break.
The second half was dominated by the Otago Spirit, which showed an ability to keep its hands on the ball and force numerous penalties from its opposition.
A Cormick penalty gave Otago a slim lead as it began to pile the pressure on Hawke’s Bay.
Errors and lapses of judgement at key times cost Otago dearly as it allowed Hawke’s Bay to clear its line on a regular basis.
After 20 minutes of solid defending, Hawke’s Bay ventured into Otago’s half for the first time in the second half and began applying pressure to the Spirit, which resulted in a late try to front›rower Gemma Woods.
Otago threw everything it had at Hawke’s Bay in the final minutes, but fell agonisingly short.
The Spirit could not turn its mountain of second›half territory and possession into points. Its lineout was shaky and some key decision›making also let the side down.
It was served extremely well up front by co›captains Tegan Hollows and Julia Gorinski, who put in mammoth shifts, while flanker Miles was at her very best and was a menace at the breakdown.
First five Sheree Hume and centre Cunningham were the pick of the backs.
Hawke’s Bay midfielders Robin and Pasikala were dangerous with ball in hand.
Winger Apryll Green was threatening in open space. Halfback Emma Jensen gave a fantastic account of herself in her last game of rugby, ending a career that started in 1999.