Try-scorer Tristan Flutey fending off a Wanganui defender. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
Are Wairarapa-Bush the real deal this season?
Going by Saturday’s stunning 28-18 victory at Memorial Park over six-time Meads Cup champions Wanganui, they certainly have the talent and confidence to be major players in this year’s championship.
This was no flash in the pan lucky win.
This was a victory built on hard graft from a never-say-die tight five, fierce tackling around the fringes led by the superb No 7 Johan van Vliet, and solid backline defence.
It was all capped off with two brilliant moments on attack.
The first of those came after three minutes when first-five Tipi Haira burst through the midfield and fed left winger Tristan Flutey, who pushed off a defender, to score handy to the posts.
The second came about halfway through the second half and proved to be the defining moment in the game.
With Wai-Bush holding an 18-15 lead, fullback Inia Katia created space out wide and flicked a pass to debutant winger Logan Hebenton-Prendeville.
The 18-year-old started a 45m jinking run brushing off several defenders before gassing it to score under the posts. He celebrated with a somersault.
Earlier, prop Sam Tufuga crashed over from a 5m lineout drive to give the home side a 12-3 lead after 22 minutes.
Wanganui hooker Roman Tutaha scored an unconverted try from a driving maul only for Haira to reply with a penalty for a 15-8 halftime lead.
The second half could not have started any worse for Wai-Bush.
A wayward throw-in at a 5m lineout was swept on by halfback Lindsay Horrocks who dived over for a soft try, and the scores were tied at 15-15.
A Haira penalty, followed by Hebenton-Prendeville’s moment of glory, restored Wai-Bush’s 10-point lead with 20 minutes to play.
Dane Whale gave Wanganui some hope of a late revival with a penalty after 72 minutes but Haira replied with another with two minutes on the clock.
Wanganui dominated possession for long periods of the game but their progress around the edges was blocked by solid defence.
Van Vliet made a mountain of tackles and was always a nuisance at the breakdown, forcing several turnovers.
Not far behind were fellow loosies Joe Tako and No 8 Kirk Tufuga, who were also damaging runners with ball in hand.
The well-organised midfield defence of Ueta Tufuga and Robbie Anderson gave their opponents few gaps to exploit.
The home side were the more dangerous with ball in hand.
Haira controlled play well and his darting runs caused problems for Wanganui.
Fullback Inia Katia was a general nuisance to the opposition with his quick taps and unpredictability.
But this wasn’t about individuals, this was an outstanding team effort and a message to the other Heartland teams that the green and reds are serious contenders.
With the win, Wairarapa-Bush captured the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup that is contested in games played between Wairarapa-Bush, Wanganui, and Horowhenua-Kapiti – for the first time in many years.
Scores from the first round of the Heartland Championship
Wairarapa-Bush 28 [Tristan Flutey, Sam Tufuga, Logan Hebenton-Prendeville tries; Tipene Haira 2con, 3pen] Wanganui 18 [Roman Tutauha, Lindsay Horrocks tries; Dane Whale con, pen; Craig Clare dropped goal]. HT: 15-8.
Buller 54 East Coast 19, Mid Canterbury 10 Horowhenua-Kapiti 17, South Canterbury 20 North Otago 26, Thames Valley 15 Poverty Bay 17, West Coast 56 King Country 27.
WHAT THE WAIRARAPA-BUSH PLAYERS SAID
Johan van Vliet
The outstanding open side flanker reckoned it was a great feeling to be back in the green and red again.
“I’ve missed it the last five years.
There’s a great bunch of boys this year, we’re all homegrown and it’s a great culture we’re building here.
“I’m looking forward to a good season ahead after a great victory like that.”
On his match-winning try
“I was just trying something out. I wasn’t really involved at the start but to come back with that, it was awesome.
“I wasn’t thinking – I was just going. I just pictured something and it happened.”
And on his first game in the green and red?
“I put it down to the forwards, eh, a lot of hard work and we couldn’t have done it without them so, I’m pretty proud to be playing for the Bush.”
Captain James Goodger
“We’ve certainly got the talent and it was just a matter of bringing it on game day, which we did.”
“I’ve been part of the Bush for a long time now and we haven’t had a vibe like this for a while and I’ve just got so much passion and am really confident in our boys.
“I’ve played for Bush for nine years and haven’t beaten Wanganui once, so I’m just really proud, really stoked. It sets it up for the season.”