Wairarapa-Bush midfield back Cyrus Baker on the attack. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Wairarapa-Bush’s 36-10 win over East Coast in their Heartland Championship rugby match at Memorial Park, Masterton on Saturday, could best be described as a step in the right direction.
A small step maybe, but a step nevertheless.
Frankly, any sort of victory would probably have been seen as acceptable by a Wairarapa-Bush camp desperately needing a boost in confidence after their 79-7 drubbing by Wanganui the previous weekend.
So when you consider they scored five tries to one and came away with the maximum 5pts as a consequence it’s fair to say this was a satisfactory day at the office for the home team.
Although they will still have to lift several notches if they are to have any chance of repeating last year’s effort of making the Meads Cup top four playoffs.
East Coast, in all honesty, were pretty average, yet for a brief period early in the second half the prospects of them pulling off an unlikely win could not be discounted.
From 17-0 down at halftime they picked up a converted try and a penalty to close the score to 17-10 within six minutes of the resumption of play, and were exposing holes in the Wairarapa-Bush defence regularly enough to suggest there could be more to come.
That there wasn’t was due to two things, firstly their own habit of constantly trying to run the ball from deep in their own territory and all too often turning over possession through basic handling and passing errors.
Secondly, Wairarapa-Bush became much more solid and dependable in their tackling.
It was pleasing, not only in the second half but in the first as well, to see Wairarapa-Bush not only create try scoring opportunities, but generally turn them into points on the board.
No 8 Tavita Isaac, in his Heartland debut and returning to the active scene after a lengthy break through concussion, scored the first of them with a typical charge for the line.
When he left the field after 29 minutes his replacement Chris Raymond crashed over for the second after the initial thrust had been made by fellow loosie Brendan Campbell.
It was young winger Soli Malatai who steadied the nerves for Wairarapa-Bush in the second spell after East Coast had dominated the opening stanzas with a try to Parekura Lalaga and a conversion and penalty to Kris Palmer, capitalising on a good pass from halfback Piri Weepu to cross for their third try.
And the fourth was scored by Inia Katia, not long after he had come off the reserve bench to replace Weepu.
How he managed to wriggle past a number of would-be tacklers only Katia would know.
The last of the five Wairarapa-Bush tries went to skipper Eddie Cranston and it was appropriate it should come after his pack had shunted their East Coast counterparts back several metres at a scrum, as of all the areas of the forward game where Wairarapa-Bush had an ascendancy this was the most marked.
Several times during the course of the 80 minutes they had their opponents going backwards at a rapid rate of knots.
In the lineouts too Wairarapa-Bush won their own ball with relative ease with lock Andrew McLean a commanding figure in that department and Lachie McFadzean little behind him.
While the battle for the loose ball was more even the home team also had a slight edge there, and interestingly it was two players who started on the bench, Epeli Rayaqayaqa and Chris Raymond, who were the standouts in that area.
Rayaqayaqa, in particular, had a storming game in what was his Heartland debut, showing exceptional pace and some nifty footwork to boot whenever he had ball in hand, and also getting through a power of work on defence.
The composure which comes with experience was always evident in the play of former All Black Piri Weepu in his stint at halfback for Wairarapa-Bush, and Katia was a more-than-able sub for him.
There was some strong, purposeful running from Cyrus Baker in midfield and Soli Malatai and Nikora Ewe further enhanced their reputations as wingers with the speed and skill to make an impact on a game when given space in which to move.
This then was a solid win for Wairarapa-Bush in what was their 100th Heartland match, but they and their supporters will be under no illusions that even better will be required if they are to maintain the momentum by beating King Country in Te Kuiti next weekend.
In other Heartland championship matches played on Saturday, defending champions Wanganui got the fright of their lives before edging out Thames Valley 21-19, North Otago beat Mid-Canterbury 31-25, Buller defeated West Coast 34-19, Horowhenua-Kapiti overwhelmed Poverty Bay 39-5, and South Canterbury beat King Country 42-36.
Competition points: Wanganui, Horowhenua-Kapiti and Buller 9, South Canterbury 7, Thames Valley, Mid-Canterbury and North Otago 6, Wairarapa-Bush 5, West Coast 4, King Country 2, East Coast and Poverty Bay 0.