In 2017, Te Puke and Tauranga West were the dominant forces in the Tai Mitchell rugby tournament and it was Te Puke who ran out 26-21 winners in the final. In 2018, the two sides met in the final once again and just like the year before, Te Puke were too strong winning 41-12. This year's tournament, held at Tarawera Park in Kawerau, saw the two sides cruise to the final again, setting up another epic encounter – Tauranga West desperate for redemption and Te Puke equally desperate to secure the three-peat. Sports reporter David Beck was there to watch the action unfold.
Yesterday's Tai Mitchell rugby tournament final was a case of third time lucky for Tauranga West as a high-flying first half was enough to get them across the line against regular foes Te Puke.
The two teams were the clear standouts in the tournament, sweeping aside every obstacle in their paths to meet in the final for the third consecutive year.
After being runners-up for the past two years, Tauranga West finally had redemption as they won 31-24 to lift the Tai Mitchell Shield.
Te Puke had plenty of field position in the first half but struggled to penetrate the Tauranga defensive line. Tauranga absorbed the pressure and, blessed with speed and some dazzling footwork, were able to hit on the counter-attack scoring four tries to lead 26-0 at halftime.
Te Puke are too good a side to not come back strongly in the second half and that's exactly what they did. Judah Draiva scored a quick fire hatrick to reduce the deficit to 24-17.
Tauranga West hit back with their fifth try to lead 31-17.
Judah completed a superb individual performance with his fourth try late in the game but it was little more than a consolation as Tauranga West held on for the win.
Tauranga West assistant coach Jonty Wood was proud of the way his side put the last two year's results behind them and got across the line.
"Our first half was absolutely outstanding,we tried to bring the line speed and the energy with it and we were able to put pressure on and capitalise on a few of their errors. We couldn't have asked for anything more in the first half.
Teams vie for top spot in Tai Mitchell tournament
"In the second half, the wheels fell off a little bit and we knew they were going to come back at us."
He said the message to the boys going into the final was simply to keep doing what they had been doing all week.
"Going into the final we thought we'd had a pretty outstanding tournament so we really wanted to keep doing the things we'd been doing. We had some pretty emphatic victories and hadn't been tested too much so the key word was pressure, we wanted to put pressure on them and we knew that could make or break a team. The boys really took that on board."
Te Puke coach Phil O'Reilly was gracious in defeat.
"I think the occasion got to them in that first half and they maybe tried a bit too hard, there were some loose carries and ineffective clean outs that kept them in the game and at the right end of the field. They caught us out a bit."
Going into the final we thought we'd had a pretty outstanding tournament so we really wanted to keep doing the things we'd been doing.
Despite the loss he was pleased with his side's performances throughout the whole tournament.
"They were fantastic. We didn't set out to win the thing, we just set out to do the small things well, play to our systems and structures, have a good time and create some memories. If a by-product of that was getting into the final and being successful we'd take that but overall we're happy.
"This is one of the better group of boys we've had, quite a diverse group in terms of culture which was really nice."
2019 Tai Mitchell results
Play-off for 9th:
Galatea 15 Ōpōtiki 33.
Play-off for 7th:
Tauranga North 14 Rotorua Gold 33.
Play-off for 5th:
Whakatāne 24 Rotorua Maroon 22.
Play-off for 3rd:
Tauranga East 19 Rangitaiki 31.
Tauranga West 31 Te Puke 24.