Coffs must take tough route to grand final

DEFENDING their rugby crown will have to be done the hard way after Coffs Harbour went down 17-8 to Port Pirates in the major semi-final at Port Macquarie's Stuart Park on Saturday.

While the lesser of the two contestants in vital stages of the match, Coffs might still have forced the game into extra time had goal kicking been on target.

And while the reigning premiers finished stronger it was their hesitancy in the opening half hour, when they failed to use the wind at their backs, that ultimately brought them unstuck.

The circumstances of the loss were enormously frustrating to coach Paul Butcher.

"We had a game plan to kick to the edges where Port was vulnerable and we didn't stick to it," he said.

"Instead of pushing at their weaknesses we let them dictate too long and were forced into playing catch-up, and you can't allow a side like theirs to do that."

Peter Besseling and Rob Devonshire were allowed to call the tune and managed to get away with it not just in line outs but, importantly, with their manipulation of scrums.

Coffs were often flat in attack whereas Pirates always had trailers when their big men made yards up the short side.

But there were plenty of positives in the Coffs defence.

Port led 10-3 at the break but it could have been more had the northerners not saved three tries with desperate tackling.

With the wind picking up for the return, all Port needed to do was kick and they did that often.

In contrast, Coffs had to drag the ball to the opposite end, taking up enormous amounts of energy.

The game was gone when Tom Valentine scampered across in the corner after centre Josh Mann twice created overlaps in a spectacular backline raid.

With the decider now locked in for Port's home ground in a fortnight, Coffs have their last chance to force a return bout when they confront Hastings Valley at Park Beach Plaza Rugby Park in Saturday's preliminary final.

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