An all too familiar sight . . .Wairarapa-Bush’s Tavita Isaac and Inia Katia struggle to halt the progress of Mid-Canterbury’s former All Black Regan King, scorer of two tries in the 60-24 romp. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
The woefulness of the Wairarapa-Bush defence in their 60-24 thrashing by Mid-Canterbury in the Heartland Championship rugby game at Memorial Park, Masterton on Saturday was well summed up by a wag in the crowd.
“It’s like they are playing the training cones” he surmised after watching Mid-Canterbury run in seven tries between the 28th and 54th minutes and move from 7-3 down to 55-7 up in the process.
For local fans – and there was a good muster of them there – it was 26 minutes of pure agony as what had earlier had all the portents of an even contest suddenly became a mismatch of massive proportions.
So much so that even when Mid-Canterbury released the brakes and Wairarapa-Bush hit back to score three tries to one in the last 22 minutes, and pick up a bonus point at the same time, there were only muted celebrations, both on the field and in the Lochore Stand.
Just why the Wairarapa-Bush defence became so ragged that it was almost non-existent was hard to fathom.
Early on they were the dominant team, particularly in the first five minutes when they constantly hammered away at the Mid-Canterbury line with forward surge after forward surge and were eventually rewarded when skipper Eddie Cranston crashed over for a try which Tim Priest converted.
A Jarred Percival penalty in the 12th minute did close the gap to 4pts and for the next 16 minutes it was pretty much tit for tat with both teams playing with good intensity but tending to lose possession at vital times.
Mid-Canterbury did have the territorial advantage through that period but it was certainly not big enough to suggest that the floodgates were about to open. Indeed there was every indication then that this was a game destined to go right to the wire.
Even when Mid-Canterbury hit the front for the first time in the game in the 28th minute through a converted try to flanker Seta Koroitamana there seemed no reason for Wairarapa-Bush supporters to panic.
After all it had not come easy with Wairarapa-Bush repulsing a series of attacks before the crucial gap eventually appeared.
Nobody could have guessed then that Mid-Canterbury would run in further tries in the 30th, 37th, 39th, 47th, 50th, 52nd and 54th minutes but that’s exactly what happened, and generally the recipe was the same, move the ball wide with a couple of miss out passes and expose the sudden frailties in the Wairarapa-Bush defence with hard, straight running and close support of the ball carrier.
It wasn’t exactly rocket science but it worked to a tee, making great viewing for the few Mid-Canterbury fans who had travelled north to support their side and conversely being very much head in the hands stuff for their Wairarapa-Bush counterparts.
Some of the less hardy souls were even seen leaving the ground, probably with the idea of finding somewhere to drown their sorrows and who could blame them.
They did, however, miss Epeli Rayaqayaqa, who had come off the reserve bench to play on the wing rather than his selected position of flanker, show a real turn of foot to win the race for the ball over the line when Priest kicked ahead and Soli Malatai and Corey McFadzean score other late tries to at least bring a small semblance of respectability to the final scoreline.
It was appropriate though that it should be Mid-Canterbury who had the last say, notching their ninth try of the game in the dying stakes and taking the score into the 60s.
Remarkably considering the end result this was not a game which was all doom and gloom for Wairarapa-Bush.
For instance they actually had the edge on Mid-Canterbury in the scrums, came out about even in the lineouts and in prop Jayden Mason, lock Andrew McLean and No 8 Tavita Isaac had three forwards who seldom failed to good metreage with ball in hand.
Both halfbacks used, Inia Katia in the first half and Piri Weepu in the second, had solid enough games, Robbie Anderson had his moments at centre and Rayaqayaqa and Malatai did add attacking flair when they joined the action on the wings.
Unfortunately though the lasting memory will be all about that D word, and how bad it was.
A mountain of improvement is required there if the team is to pick itself up from the ropes and become involved in the semi-final stages of the championship early next month.