An inspired Whanganui Collegiate 1st XV have locked in a home Central North Island semifinal on the broad shoulders of their rampaging No 8 Semi Vodosese, who scored a quartet of tries in the 39-19 win over St Peter's Cambridge at the school grounds on Saturday.
Collegiate had temporarily seeded their top of the table spot to St Paul's Collegiate, after their previously scheduled match with Feilding High last Wednesday was postponed six days due to the funeral of Phillip Hourigan – the father of fullback Beau and international tennis standout Paige.
The young Hourigan still bravely fronted for his team off the bench and scored the final try of the match in a special moment.
Yet against a solid St Peter's side, who were playing for their own semifinal berth and had history on their side from five prior CNI wins over Collegiate, it was Vodosese who stamped his authority on the match.
The home side missing the kickoff left them under early pressure, but they soon cleared the ball from their half, and when St Peter's tried a cross field grubber kick, Collegiate halfback Adam Lennox was perpetual motion to snatch it in a gap and feed the inside pass to his No 8, who dashed 30m untouched for a seven pointer after six minutes.
Again, St Peter's claiming the kickoff put pressure on Collegiate, and this time they controlled the ball to pile in at the tryline, with their visiting lock going over on the last surge for an unconverted try.
Collegiate started to string some phases together, led by hooker Ben Strang and lock Joseph Abernethy with strong carries and recycling back through their legs, and receiving the second pass off the ruck, Vodosese went from a flat start to sweep through two defenders and power under the posts.
After a humorous break in play to remove a 'streaker' in the form of a small dog, Collegiate worked off an attacking scrum and again, St Peter's infringed, leading to a quick tap to attack the tryline before Abernethy went blindside to score in the corner for 19-5 at halftime.
Needing to score first, St Peter's again started strongly, but the home side defence held and worked their way back upfield – getting a penalty for second-five Te Atawhai Mason to extend their buffer beyond two converted tries.
Turning the screws, Collegiate again controlled the ball well in the pack before their backline stretched the defenders, and when the ball came back to Vodosese he again burst through tacklers for his hat-trick.
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St Peter's hit back immediately with a seven pointer to close the gap to 29-12, but they were destined to get no closer as a loose ball on the 30m mark was snapped up by Vodosese, who again showed a clean pair of heels to dash away for his fourth try.
The visitor's managed a consolation try with five minutes left, but Collegiate finished on a high as they got one last attacking play for Hourigan to score in the corner.
Coach Steve Simpson was pleased with "another very good all-round team performance".
He singled out Strang and Abernethy for their strong carries, while the flankers in Sam Sherriff and captain Henry Kilmister were tireless on defence.
Lennox and winger Shaun O'Leary had also made big contributions when placed under pressure, while it almost goes without saying that Vodosese had "an outstanding game".
Picking up the five points to move back ahead of St Paul's, the Collegiate side will now look to confirm top spot with their rescheduled away game against Feilding on Tuesday, which will also be for the Co-Ed Cup.
Kickoff is 12.30pm.