Napier Boys' High School 1st XV rugby No 8 Luke Russell was a bloke with mixed emotions on Saturday.
"It was good to get a win in our last game on our home field. But there is still lots of stuff to work on before the final," Russell said after his team beat St Pat's Town 31-14 in their Hurricanes semifinal to secure a berth in the final against defending champions Hastings Boys' High School which, will be played at Napier's McLean Park this Saturday.
While Russell shone with his bursts off the back of the scrum, link play and defensive workrate, the hosts were nowhere near as clinical as they were in their 23-22 Super 8 final loss to Hamilton Boys' High School a fortnight earlier.
Loose carries resulted in 10 soft conceded turnovers, three more than St Pat's Town. Napier also conceded 11 penalties, two more than they were awarded by Manawatu referee Sam Couper.
Captain and hooker Tyrone Thompson was again inspirational for the hosts. His scrum was again dominant.
Napier's defence was superb. Lock Tiaki Fabish joined Thompson and Russell as the pick of the forwards.
All of the Napier backs defended well but will be seeking more accuracy with their handling and support play in the final. Prop Jerimiah Tuatua and openside flanker Sam Donaldson, a younger brother of former Magpies halfback Zac Donaldson, had huge workrates in the St Pat's Town pack.
Second five eighth Sanele Augustino and centre Ben Shepherd combined well in the visiting backline.
While pleased his team had reached the final, NBHS coach Brendon Ratcliffe agreed his troops' standard of play had dropped two or three levels on their last outing.
"There is lots we can improve on and it is good we have a week to do it."
Former Magpies coach Ratcliffe heaped kudos on Hawke's Bay Rugby Union CEO Jay Campbell and his Napier City Council counterpart Wayne Jack for agreeing to host the final at McLean Park. Originally it was scheduled for Palmerston North.
"Thousands who would not have been able to make the trip can watch the game now and we have the opportunity to christen the new turf at McLean Park."
St Pats Town coach and former Magpies prop Kas Lealamanua predicted Napier would win the final. At the same time he was proud of the manner his lads fought back after trailing 19-0 at halftime.
"We could have done either of two things - chucked the towel in or keep fighting. We kept battling and won the second half so I was happy with that."
Like NBHS, Hastings Boys' High School beat their opponents, St Patrick's College Silverstream 31-14 at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua, after leading 19-0 at halftime.
Hastings manager and former Magpies halfback Jason Bird said the visitors used the strong wind to their advantage in the first half and retained possession well when they were battling into the wind in the second half.
"While it was a solid effort we know we need to build to another level to beat Napier," Bird added.
Jordan Thompson-Dunn was again full of authority in both the first five-eighth and second five-eighth positions for Hastings. Latrell Ah Kiong operated well in the halfback and first five-eighth positions and finished the game with two tries and three conversions.
The Hastings loose forward trio of captain and No 8 Liam Udy-Johns and flankers Connor Wadley and Donovan Mataira was outstanding.
Napier Boys' High School 31 (Leo Thompson, Jack Sheriden, Tiaki Fabish, Luke Russell, Tyrone Thompson tries; Keegan Christian-Goss 3 cons), St Pat's Town 14 (Lanakila Tiatia, Sanele Augustino tries; Boston Christie 2 cons). HT: 19-0.
Hastings Boys' High School 31 (Latrell Ah Kiong 2, Connor Wadley, Damarus Hokianga, Donovan Mataira tries; Ah Kiong 3 cons), St Pat's Silverstream 14. HT: 19-0.