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There was just the slightest of cracks in the walls of fortress Dallison Park as Waverley Harvesting Border were given their toughest test by a McCarthy Transport Ruapehu side with nothing to lose in Saturday's semifinal.
Border ultimately claimed their ninth consecutive home win 29-15, the closest Tasman Tanning Premier scoreline in Waverley this season, after they were trailing 15-12 at halftime.
With only two victories in 2020, the rebuilding Ruapehu managed to pull the heavy favourites into a tight and scrappy performance, with props Gabriel Hakaraia and Mac James Edmonds both dotting down, followed by midfielder Royce Trow.
"We went up there, we threw everything at it, if it was a 40 minute game we would have won," said coach Kim McNaught, whose club seemed so close to their dream of an all-Northern subunion final with Byford Readimix Taihape.
"It was a couple of drives and Gus [Angus Middleton] got put in the bin, and we scored again.
"That's semifinal rugby; you throw all you got at it and you've got a 50-50 chance at it.
"We just kind of went away from it in the second half - we tried to match them out wide.
"Kicked the ball back to them and they're awesome in broken play. We leaked some easy tries."
Border crossed the line twice more to regain the lead 24-15 and then got a late five-pointer to somewhat blow the score out.
It was another profitable afternoon for the extended Tikoisolomone family as the brothers in loose forward Ranato and winger Vereniki dotted down in the same game for another time this season, while their midfield cousin Alekesio Vakarorogo got a double.
Part of the crop of young players in their first adult club semifinal, Semi Vodosese scored in consecutive games after a try against Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist on August 29, with Border then having an unscheduled break when an injury-wracked Settler's Honey Ngamatapouri defaulted their last match.
"I initially thought having a week off was good for us, but I'm going through the video analysis and maybe the occasion got to us," said Border coach Cole Baldwin.
"All the results at the start of the year are out the window.
"Rua deserve to be proud of themselves. Put us in a lot of pressure, we made some poor decisions.
"Second half, I wouldn't say we played a hell of a lot better, but we had some opportunities and we took them.
"We managed to steal a bit of their lineout ball and I thought the scrum did really well. Those young guys all did well.
"They all did better [second half] but all things they could be better at."
Baldwin will now go study the tapes of Taihape's win over Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau, as his side goes back to Cooks Gardens for the rematch of last year's loss after extra time.
Buoyed by having kept alive their 13-year streak of Top 4 appearances, which looked unlikely when they were winless earlier in the season, Ruapehu will continue their rebuilding phase, which was hampered by the Covid-19 shutdown as they lost several players and couldn't maintain another squad in Tasman Tanning Senior.
"As a country club, you need two teams, we were trying to run with 38 players and people miss out," said McNaught.
"We'll be pushing hard to get two teams again next year."
Border 29 (A Vakarorogo 2, S Vodosese, R Tikoisolomone, V Tikoisolomone tries; C Clare 2 con) bt Ruapehu 15 (G Hakaraia, M Edmonds, R Trow tries). HT: 15-12 Ruapehu.