A hat trick by Cheyelle Robins-Reti has powered Matatū into the Super Rugby Aupiki final, with her team prevailing 26-23 over the Blues Women at a sunny North Harbour Stadium.
The pulsating match started with early Blues scrum dominance that led to a penalty, which Krysten Cottrell knocked through from straight in front. She followed it up with a lovely 50/22, which gave the Blues a platform to squeeze another penalty at the breakdown, Cottrell again was on target from the same spot.
However, the momentum shifted dramatically after 13 minutes; Matatū won a penalty that set them up for the opening try. Kendra Reynolds scored off a well-executed first-phase short ball from Grace Brooker to score under the posts, which stung the hosts into action.
Shortly after, an offload by Ruahei Demant to Cottrell saw Katelyn Vahaakolo to go over untouched and give the home side the lead.
From there, the Blues consolidated to dominate territory but were kept out by some very committed Matatū defense. So it must have been galling that the first chance Matatu had in the Blues’ half, the visitors turned into a try. A good run by Lucy Jenkins down the left wing set up just enough space back the other way for Robins-Reti in touch down.
Even though halftime loomed, the five-test Black Fern wasn’t done, scoring her second as the hooter went to give Matatu an eight-point lead at the break.
The royal rumble at the breakdown continued into the second half, Matatū winning a series of penalties that led to an amazing effort by Robins-Reti in the corner that the TMO ruled out for a slight knock-on.
It was the Blues who struck next, Patricia Maliepo finishing off an 80 metre, 16 phase run of possession that closed the gap up to one point. An even more spectacular try was almost scored off the kickoff. Demant ran it out of her ingoal to halfway, but a couple of offloads later, Ariana Bayler couldn’t hold the vital pass.
Cottrell started to show her class with a series of breaks upfield as the Blues grew in confidence, but the Matatū defence tightened as the time ticked on. The sheer weight of territory was bound to get too heavy, though, and Matatū finally gave way with 12 minutes to go when Liana Mikaele-Tu’u crashed over to give the Blues the lead.
Just like the first half, all Matatū needed was the hint of a chance to strike back; a penalty that turned into a five-metre lineout was then turned into a try out wide. Robins-Reti was on hand to score the easiest but most important of her three tries, with Holmes’ conversion from wide out giving Matatū a 26-23 advantage.
A significant turnover on their own goal line set up a frantic last few phases, but Matatū held their nerve to close the game out and book their place in the Super Rugby Aupiki final. They meet the winner of the Hurricanes Poua v Chiefs Manawa semi-final next Saturday in Hamilton.
BLUES WOMEN 23 (Katelyn Vahaakolo, Patricia Maliepo, Liana Mikaele-Tu’u tries; Krysten Cottrell 2 pen, con)
MATATŪ 26 (Cheyelle Robins-Reti 3, Kendra Reynolds tries; Renee Holmes 3 con)
HT: 19-11 Matatū