On a beautiful day for running rugby, the visiting Reds curiously spent the early part of the game kicking away their possession, giving their opponents a helping hand.
Although they dropped the very first of those kicks, the Eels soon began to display their trademark strength and elusive running, as second five Lai Logologoivalu opened the account for the home side with a breakaway try in only the seventh minute.
Much like the game the two teams played in round six, when the Eels scored 26 points unanswered to open the game, the Reds had no response for the overwhelming backline of their rivals.
Instead they opted to continue to kick the ball away, especially when they were in the middle of the field.
Making the decision even more curious was how strong the Reds were when they actually took on the Eels’ defensive line.
First five-eight Viiga Ruepena and the giant, strong-running inside centre Tevita Niusama gave the Eels’ inside channel all sorts of difficulty, but unfortunately much of the great attacking moments came when the score was out of reach.
It seemed that the visitors lacked belief, despite the fact that they had arguably been the competition’s most dominant team over the past four weeks.
Coach Vase Samania explained that it was less about belief, and more about the consistent injuries that the side sustained over the course of the season.
“Coming into the game we had only three subs. I’m 46 but I still had to put the boots on, just to make up the numbers,” Samania said after the game.
“It’s something that we’ve struggled with all season - injuries and availability. So because of that, I wasn’t even sure if we would make it this far. But I’m glad that we made it to the semi-finals.
“But we’ve always been great with only two subs. Credit to the Eels, because that’s just how sports go some times.”
Although the score rightfully reflects how dominant the Eels were, they did not play a perfect game.
When the game wasn’t in doubt, the Eels began to concede a number of penalties, which ultimately had no bearing on the result. But it will be something the team will need to look at ahead of their game against the Tupapa Panthers next week.
Goal-kicking is also a growing concern, as the team managed to only convert one try out of four, and added a penalty after missing a number in prime locations.
Again, it did not matter in this game, but goal kicking did cost them in their round 10 loss against the Panthers, when they lost 13-10 despite scoring two tries to one.
But this was match vintage Eels in terms of their attacking prowess, as Logologoivalu, centre Tua Ravula, fullback John Penu and wingers Sirla Pera and Samu Alafua all consistently broke the line.
All day the wide defence of the Reds had no answer for the thundering herd that is the Eels backline, especially when they were allowed to roam in open space.
Logologoivalu in particular had a fantastic day down the left hand side, making a number of powerful runs, and scoring both his tries from over 40 metres out.
Coach Clive Nicholas said after the match that he was proud of his side, as they were able to follow through with their game plan, and were confident ahead of their fourth game this year against the Panthers.
“Coming into this game, I just wanted the boys to shut up and not talk back to the ref. To just accept his decision and get back on defence,” Nicholas said.
“Today I think that we were 80 per cent there, so still a bit to work on. We’ll be working on it during training, and we are confident going into this game. We know what we need to do better against the Panthers.”
Once again the game will be hosted at the Swamp in Avatiu, so Eels fans will need to get out in numbers to support their team, as it sounded like a Takuvaine home game on Saturday, something that Samania was pleased with after the game.
“All year we’ve had really great support from our fans, and it really showed again today. So I want to say a very big thank you to everyone that turned out to see us.”
AVATIU EELS: 25 - Tries: Lai Logologoivalu (2), Tua Ravula & Toru Katuke. Conversion: Clive Nicholas. Penalty: Junior Kiriau
TAKUVAINE REDS: 8 - Try: Vaike Potoru. Penalty: Viiga Ruepena