"Look out next year!"
That was the call from the Hawke's Bay Tui women's rugby team's head coach Steve Woods after his side suffered a convincing 34-10 loss to Otago Spirit in their Farah Palmer Cup Championship semifinal in Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday.
While his team has displayed vast improvement on the 2017 season, when they recorded six consecutive losses under then head coach Terangi Maeva, Woods admitted they still had a long way to go to reach the level they want to achieve.
"We've just had a quick chat and the girls have identified areas we need to improve on next year. Fitness and skills and conditioning will be a major priorities during the summer.
"But we've still had a massive season. Everybody has enjoyed it and everyone is keen to come back next year ... the girls are still upbeat," Woods said minutes after Auckland referee James Doleman blew the final whistle.
"I'm so proud of them."
A lack of patience, particularly in the first half and a high count of 17 turnovers conceded - eight more than Otago - were key factors in the loss. The visitors missed the services of injured Black Ferns first five-eighth Krysten Cottrell big time.
Fullback Shaylee Tipiwai had her best match of the season for the Tui. She was particularly impressive on the counter-attack and always beat the first defender. She was safe under the high ball and accurate with her defensive reads.
Their halfback, three-time world champion Black Fern Emma Jensen, and first five-eighth, 2006 world champion Black Fern Amy Williams, both shone with their tactical kicking. Substitute No 8 Kathleen Brown provided quality impact during the final quarter.
Wingers Tori Iosefo and Felicity Powdrell both made the most of their limited opportunities. Hooker Jessie Taueki had a high defensive workrate.
Contracted Black Fern Kilisitina Moata'ane produced a player-of-the-match performance during her 70 minutes of action at centre for Otago. She used her tremendous pace to score two tries, distributed well to her support runners and was a rock on defence.
She scored her first try in the third minute when she took advantage of some suspect Tui defence. First five-eighth Rosie Kelly slotted the conversion.
Two minutes later the Tui turned down three points and moved the ball quickly from a penalty to send Tipiwai over for a try. Otago fullback Sheree Hume scored the first of her two tries in the 11th minute a couple of phases after the hosts had stolen a Tui lineout throw.
Moata'ane scored her second try in the 33rd minute when the Spirit moved the ball at pace in an overlap situation, and the hosts led 17-5 at halftime.
The Tui started the second half strongly and retained possession for 15 phases before conceding a turnover 6m from the tryline in the fourth minute.
Otago prop Isla Pringle scored in the 54th minute from a quick tap when the Tui were penalised for being offside. Five minutes later the Tui stayed in the hunt when Powdrell scored after an overlap had been created.
However the Spirit secured their final berth against Wellington, who beat North Harbour in their semifinal, when Moata'ane sent Hume in for her second try in the 66th minute, which Kelly converted.
Experienced Otago second five-eighth Greer Muir scored the final try of the match in the 69th minute. Muir combined well with Moata'ane throughout the game.
Kelly and her halfback Rosie Buchanan-Brown did well for a first-season combination at this level. Flanker Zoe Whatarau had a high workrate in the winning pack.
Otago Spirit 34 (Kilisitina Moata'ane 2, Sheree Hume 2, Greer Muir, Isla Pringle tries; Rosie Kelly 2 cons), Hawke's Bay Tui 10 (Shaylee Tipiwai, Felicity Powdrell tries). HT: 17-5.
■ The Hawke's Bay Magpies will take on Otago in their Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium next weekend. It will not be a Ranfurly Shield challenge as the shield isn't at stake during semifinal and final matches.