By Gary Caffell
The Wairarapa-Bush Maori women’s rugby team were in esteemed company after their surprisingly comfortable 25-5 win over Manawatu at the Te Tini a Maui Central Maori rugby tournament at Memorial Park, Masterton over the weekend.
Victory meant Wairarapa-Bush became the first team to successfully defend the Toko Te Kani Taonga at this event for Maori teams within the Hurricanes franchise plus Taranaki.
And the icing on the cake was that making the presentation to them was arguably the most famous name in Maori women’s rugby in this country, former Black Ferns captain, former Women’s Rugby Player of the Year, member of the International Rugby Board Hall of Fame and now New Zealand Rugby board director, Farah Palmer.
A tough competitor herself, Palmer would have liked what she saw from a Wairarapa-Bush side which was expected to strike formidable opposition from what was reputed to be a powerful Manawatu squad.
As it happened, however, it was Wairarapa-Bush who called the tune for most of the match and their winning margin was a fair enough indication of the merits of the two sides.
The after-match comment from coach Hera Edwards that Wairarapa-Bush were “really, really pumped” for this game told the story.
The home team competed aggressively in all phases of the match, particularly the breakdowns where their physicality and desire to earn possession was clearly superior to that of their opponents.
Also impressive was the handling and passing skills displayed by Wairarapa-Bush in Saturday’s wet conditions which weren’t exactly conducive to the running game.
They often stretched the Manawatu defence beyond breaking point with swift and accurate movement of the ball.
While teamwork was the key to their success Wairarapa-Bush benefitted immensely from the individual talents of young inside back Paige Walker, who not only had the task of being their chief playmaker but also the responsibility of captain.
She stepped up magnificently on both counts and appeals as a player with a bright future.
Walker scored two of Wairarapa-Bush’s five tries with others going to three other players who also had strong games, Perri Tatana-Williams, Kahli Tipene and Destiny Ranger.
A powerful Te Matau (Hawke’s Bay) squad dashed any hopes the Wairarapa-Bush men’s team had of earning promotion to the A section of this tourney in 2018.
They met twice over the two days with Hawke’s Bay winning Saturday’s preliminary round fixture 30-3 and repeating that result in Sunday’s final, although this time by a wider margin 47-14.
Wairarapa-Bush, who had scored a 15-0 victory over Horouta (East Coast), in their other preliminary round match, competed well in the early stages of the competition decider, recovering from a 7-0 deficit after 11 minutes to draw level at 7-7 six minutes later.
From that stage on, however, it was pretty much one-way traffic with the pacy and hard running Hawke’s Bay backs constantly probing holes in the Wairarapa-Bush defence.
By halftime the visitors led 28-7 and while Wairarapa-Bush battled away gamely in the second spell a converted try almost on fulltime was all they had to show for their efforts.
The Wairarapa-Bush under-18s won their grade, beating Manawatu 21-15 to take the spoils there.