Wakatipu claim title, gear up for Clutha

High shot: Arrowtown's Izzy Nayaloga scrags Wakatipu centre Kapa Moeke PICTURE: BLAIR PATTINSON

For the third straight weekend, the Queenstown Recreation Ground is hosting a top rugby game.

After sneaking past Cromwell in the semi, Wakatipu outlasted Arrowtown 13-10 in front of a big crowd last Saturday to snatch the Central Otago Premier title, its first since 2012.

Tomorrow, Wakatipu take on Southern Region winners Clutha in the Otago Countrywide final. Kick-off’s at 2.30pm.

When Mountain Scene spoke to Wakatipu coach Justin Pewhairangi on Monday there were suggestions some players might still be celebrating.

How does he motivate them for Saturday?

“That’s the challenge, I suppose.”

As if Clutha weren’t enough on their own.

They clobbered Crescent 60-12 to claim their third consecutive title.

Pewhairangi says the game will be the last chance for some of his boys to play together as the “travellers” are heading home.

He expects some regular season bench-warmers to get game time.

“It’s rugby – the boys still love playing rugby, they love playing together so they’ll be up for it.”

Not that they’ll be at full strength.

Five-eighth Matt Ashe was injured before the final, prop Brett ‘Big Show’ Anderson has been struggling with sore hips, flanker Tom Ria has a torn knee ligament and centre Kapa Moeke is out of town.

Wakatipu forwards coach Russell Kelly puts last Saturday’s win – and the turn-around from last year’s dismal seventh place – down to a change in mental attitude.

“We had probably the worst game I’ve ever been associated with when we went over to Tarras to play Upper Clutha. The attitude was terrible, we just didn’t get going and it’s infectious.”

Unlike last year, Kelly says much of the team that started the season were there at last Saturday’s glorious finish.

Arrowtown missed a few kicks “but you take your chances, don’t you”, he says.

“We knew our bench would be the difference.”

Arrowtown coach Simon Spark admits the team didn’t kick its goals – young kicker Connor Bissett missing all four.

But twice it was in good field position, while 10-3 up, and gave up the ball.

“Those key moments probably hurt us more than the goal-kicking.”

Pewhairangi says his team hung in there at 10-3 down with less than 10 minutes to go.

“I think the last two losses at the end of the season showed us how to deal with a bit of pressure and how not to.”

While the final was more about defence – “there were no holes out there” – the intensity made up for it.

“It was probably what a grand final should be.”