A courageous effort from Northland's inaugural Farah Palmer Cup team was not enough to make it through their semifinal against Hawke's Bay yesterday.
The Kauri, playing their championship semifinal in Napier, came out of the blocks firing but couldn't live with the Tui's slick ball-handling skills, eventually succumbing 46-31. The result saw Hawke's Bay progress to the competition championship final against Otago next weekend, after the southerners beat Tasman 64-10 in their semifinal yesterday
The Northland women, full of confidence after four consecutive wins in the competition, started with a hiss and a roar with a try inside three minutes to first five Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali.
A conversion from sharp-shooting No 8 Krystal Murray pushed their lead to 7-nil but it wasn't long before the home side registered their first points of the day. After a mistake at the breakdown from Northland, experienced halfback Emma Jensen broke through the tackle of Kauri captain Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate to score her side's first try.
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Despite the conversion going wide, Hawke's Bay soon took the lead with a try to left wing Tori Iosefo, who dived over in the corner after a great break from dynamic lock Liana Mikaele Tu'u.
With the Tui leading by three going into the last 20 minutes, it was clear Northland were struggling to defend the wide areas when Hawke's Bay's slick attackers spread the ball with pace through their backline.
However, moments of individual brilliance kept the Kauri well and truly in the fight as the visitors scored twice in a matter of minutes. A great kicking display from Subritzky-Nafatali led to a fourth try in two weeks for Ngata-Aerengamate, before electric winger Savannah Bodman beat three defenders to score her sixth try of the season.
Leading 21-10 and full of confidence, the Kauri looked to be on their way to a finals berth - however the Tui played to their strengths of spreading the ball wide and went on to score three times in the last 10 minutes of the first half to lead 27-21 at the break.
If they were to win, Northland needed to keep ball in hand and remove the option for Hawke's Bay to use their speed and numbers out wide. The Kauri started the second half well with a penalty to Murray and a try to Bodman to lead 31-27.
Unfortunately, for the final 30 minutes of the game it was one-way traffic as the home side scored a further three tries to wrap up the win 46-31.
While the Northland players were left disappointed by the loss, the enjoyment and thrill for the Kauri of reaching a semifinal in their first year of competition was obvious, and told of their passion for the game.
"I was just so proud of our girls," Ngata-Aerengamate said.
"It's such a big milestone for us to be in the semifinal, having our first team in this tournament."
The current Black Ferns hooker said she was very grateful for all the support from the Northland community and hoped this season would provide a good base for women's rugby in the region.
"There's people in our local community who come up to us, we don't even know them but they watch our games and our young girls [are] wanting to be a part of this and seeing that there is a pathway for them, I think that's the winner at the end of the day."