Another exhilarating year of Baywide women's rugby is coming to a close but this is where the action really starts. This year saw new teams enter the competition and thrive while other more established teams announced themselves as title contenders. This weekend, in the semifinals, Whakarewarewa host defending champions Rangataua and last year's runners-up Rangiuru, who finished top of the table, host Waimana. Tensions will be high as we enter the knockout stages where there are no second chances – if you lose, your season is over. Sports reporter David Beck spoke to the teams involved.
It's business time for the top four teams in the Baywide Premier Women's rugby championship as they fight for a place in the in the finals.
On Sunday, defending champions Rangataua, who finished third in the round-robin, will travel to Whakarewarewa for their semifinal. Last year's runners-up Rangiuru finished at the top of the table to earn a home semifinal against Waimana.
Rangiuru manager Ereti Williams, who was a player last season, said after losing the final 22-21 the team sat down and had an open and honest conversation about what wasn't working.
"We were just honest with one another and looked at where the gaps were within our team. We had to replace our trainer, we had to get a backs coach, a physio - those are all things we haven't had in the past.
"On top of that there was more emphasis on the team to commit and commit earlier. Obviously, those who didn't commit, we had to make the hard decision to drop them in some games - sometimes that was some of our best players but they soon got the message."
Rangiuru beat Waimana 104-5 in the final round of the round-robin on Sunday which, Williams said, gave them a lot of confidence going into the semifinal against the same opposition.
"A lot of girls are coming back from injury, ready for playoffs, so we're at full capacity now in terms of availability.
"Waimana are known as quite a physical team and I think for the first time against them we met that physicality. That's surprising to Waimana as well, usually we spin the ball wide but this time we went up the middle and it paid dividends."
Waimana captain Janie Kafi said it was always exciting to play semifinal rugby.
"We missed out last year and we can only do our best this weekend. We're looking forward to taking on the Bay's best team at the moment. Last weekend's game doesn't matter, this weekend I'm sure we'll step it up a notch, as will all the other teams.
"We're working on our defence out wide. We're pretty good in the middle with our forward pack but there are just a few things to work out which we'll do at training. We're all playing for mana and that chance to get into the final."
Whakarewarewa and Rangataua were virtually guaranteed to meet again in the semifinal so their match-up last Sunday was effectively a battle for home advantage.
Whakarewarewa won 15-14 and coach Ron James said his players were starting to see reward for their hard work this season.
"We showed what we're capable of and we started showing a bit more composure on the ball and even when we're back in our 22m. We've worked hard on those things and it's starting to show now.
"[In the semifinal] they just need to not get overawed by the occasion and play our natural game. We've got the formula there to win the game it just comes down to what sort of vision they use and what options they take."
He said playing the semifinal at home was a big advantage and he hoped plenty of supporters would turn up.
"When you look at not having to travel and stuff like that, it's one less thing to take into account. We had a pretty good crowd there [on Sunday] and I'm sure it will be a bit bigger for the semi."
Rangataua assistant coach Jamie Keenleyside was confident his team could bounce back this weekend.
"I think the girls are ready for it, they were certainly disappointed about losing the game on Sunday so they're quite keen to redeem themselves.
"We just need to stick to our structure a bit more, be patient and the result will come. I think the top three teams are pretty close and I think anybody on their day can come out on top."
Rangataua have players such as Les Elder and Luka Connor overseas representing the Black Ferns at present. Keenleyside said they had sent messages of support to their home club.
"We got some encouraging Facebook messages and stuff which is nice. It does mean a lot to the players and they certainly enjoy when they are here, they're always learning from those girls."
Both semifinals will be played on Sunday and kickoff at 1pm.
Baywide Premier Women - Semifinal Draw
Sunday July 14, kickoff 1pm.
Rangiuru v Waimana at Centennial Park, Te Puke.
Whakarewarewa v Rangataua at Puarenga Park, Rotorua.