A dominant Tauranga West is the team to beat heading into today's semifinals of the Tai Mitchell rugby tournament.
The under-13 competition is in its 78th year and West will take on Tauranga East after going through pool play unbeaten, amassing 271 points. They confirmed their place as the top qualifier with a 93-8 win over East yesterday afternoon. West started the competition with a win over defending champions Te Puke two weeks ago before beating Rotorua Gold in the final pre-tournament game last week.
The final four days of the competition are held at Kawerau's Tarawera Park and it concludes with finals tomorrow. West beat Rotorua Maroon 34-7 on Thursday and then beat cross-town rivals Tauranga North 66-0 yesterday morning.Speaking after the win over North, West captain GJ Canterbury says his team are performing well.
"We play as a team, not as individuals and we find the space and execute. There are no arguments on the field, we just keep it positive."
It was all positive play from West in the win, showing a ruthless ability when in possession.
"We wanted to try and finish on top of the table but also have fun as well, so don't put pressure on yourself to score tries or then you will be all pressured up."
The two sides showcased their sportsmanship after the game, gathering in one huddle and praising each other's efforts.
"Tai Mitchell is special because all teams from each part of Tauranga, Rotorua and Whakatāne get into one team and then we battle it out until the end," GJ says.
"It has been going on for a lot of years and we are just trying to carry that on."
Also yesterday, Te Puke made an emphatic statement in their final pool game, beating Galatea 119-0. They finished second on the table and will play hosts Rangitaiki who surged into the semifinal with wins over both Rotorua sides.
Rotorua Maroon took to the field against Whakatāne yesterday morning where they were beaten 48-7. Maroon came into life late in the second half, and probably deserved a closer scoreline. Whakatāne were stingy with possession and denied Maroon the opportunity to get their game going.
Maroon had convincing wins over Ōpōtiki and Galatea in the pre-tournament games before an encouraging 34-7 loss to West. After the loss to Whakatāne, Maroon coach Para Meha says his side were a little slow to start.
"We had been going well. We had a good game plan and we did well against West in the first half, it was 10-7. They expect to do well but it doesn't get them down. They got thrashed here but they will be jovial in the changing shed, have a feed and then regroup for the next game. They learn resilience. They also get that camaraderie and meet new friends as they are all from different schools."
Alongside tradition, the vibe of the tournament has been a key component in its success, one that is portrayed in the pre-match haka, the spirit the game is played and what goes on around the games.
Tai Mitchell organising committee member Rangihotuana Monaghan says it is important organisers match the passion shown on the field.
"I am happy to see the gelling of all the boys within each team, with other teams and some of them remembering players from the year before. It is just massive seeing that connection they have because of this tournament.
"This takes a lot of people with the same passion we have. We have had a few hiccups, but everyone steps in and all come together. We have had a lot of positivity in the meetings and people like me do it for the love of rugby.
"The cool thing is the boys and also the expressions when they meet that weight at weigh ins, they work really hard with their diet and training. It helps them feel good about themselves"
Teams played in torrential rain on Thursday and Monaghan said players and their supporters were not deterred by the conditions.
"They still did their best regardless of the weather, their passion showed in that weather and the fields have good drainage here."
Semifinals at Tarawera Park, Kawerau - Today:
10am: Whakatāne v Tauranga North, Field 1.
10am: Tauranga West vs Tauranga East, Field 2 (Main semifinal).
11:15am: Rotorua Gold vs Rotorua Maroon, Field 1.
11:15am: Te Puke vs Rangitaiki, Field 2.
Tauranga West 25
Te Puke 20
Tauranga East 15
Rotorua Gold 12
Rotorua Maroon 11
Tauranga North 10