Whanganui Collegiate 1st XV are off to Hamilton looking to complete one of their greatest seasons after a determined 26-12 victory in their Central North Island semifinal against Francis Douglas Memorial College on Saturday.
The home side rebounded from the surprise 13-8 loss in their rescheduled round robin game with Feilding High last Tuesday, a result which meant they qualified second for the playoffs behind St Paul's Collegiate.
Although Whanganui Collegiate had narrowly beaten Francis Douglas 19-12 in New Plymouth in early June, all bets are off in sudden death college rugby, yet the home side had a great start as captain Henry Kilmister leapt to secure the kickoff, then front rowers Ben Strang and Leo Allan made some surging runs down the blindside.
This led to a good early attacking field position and Strang, who has had a brilliant season from attending the Hurricanes Development camp and making the Under 18 squad which played the Blues U18's, forced his way over near the posts, with fellow Hurricanes camp attendee Te Atawhai Mason adding the extras.
The Taranaki team then had a good spell on offence and stretched the Collegiate defenders, eventually crossing for a converted try of their own in the 20th minute.
Collegiate coach Steve Simpson said this sparked his team back into action, as they applied consistent pressure and the ever-dangerous Strang squeezed over for his second try, giving his side the 14-7 advantage at halftime.
Francis Douglas had no quit in them and controlled possession after the break, despite some standout Collegiate tackling, and got the try to close the gap to 14-12.
Collegiate then put together their best period of the match, as despite struggling at lineout time, they got a penalty for Mason to kick them into the visitor's corner.
Strang threw to No 8 Semi Vodosese, who fed Allan coming around the back, with the prop being stopped just short of the line.
A quick ball recycle and the pass came back to Kilmister to force his way over at the corner flag to put his team seven points ahead.
Looking to finish things off, Collegiate continued their control and after a great run from fullback Beau Hourigan, the centre Sione Osamu, MVP points leader for the CNI competition, picked up the ball and ran off for the match-winning converted try.
"Another very good all-round team performance, but a special mention to Max Crowley for his strong performance – particularly on defence at the unaccustomed position of second-five," said Simpson.
The victory sets up Collegiate heading north to face St Paul's Collegiate in the final, after they disposed of Feilding High 44-15 on Saturday in what was a rematch of last year's grand final.
Defending champions St Paul's are the powerhouses of CNI, having won four of the last five titles, although Collegiate did beat them 26-19 at the school grounds on June 5, lifting the Rick T Francis Challenge Shield for the first time.
Kickoff on Saturday is 12pm.