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Gladstone flexing their muscles

Gladstone, with the Nunn Shield, after their impressive 36-24 win over Carterton. PHOTO/CHRIS COGDALE

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
[email protected]

CARTERTON 24
GLADSTONE 36

A return to “a bit of old school Gladdy” is behind the surge of form that has signalled Gladstone as genuine championship contenders.

That’s according to captain Ryan Knell after Gladstone won their third straight game with a dominant performance over fierce rivals Carterton at Carterton.

Gladstone started the premier championship with losses to Marist and Martinborough but had since beaten Pioneer, East Coast, and Carterton to move into fourth place. With the struggling Greytown and Eketahuna to play, a top-two finish and a home semifinal were possible.

Knell said the change of fortune had come about because of hard work, dedication, not giving up, trusting the process, and being patient.

“We’ve known for most of the season that we’ve had it, but we’ve just missed that spark. In the last few weeks, we’ve found that spark and heading into Greytown and Eke, they’re not going to be easy, and the job’s not done, but the boys are high and confident,” Knell said.

“Gladstone have been the underdogs for a few years, but we’ve gone back to a bit of old school Gladdy, just getting the forwards working hard and giving the backs nice clean ball to play with.”

The game plan worked a treat on Saturday, with the Gladstone defence quickly shutting down Carterton’s powerful ball runners, such as NZ Barbarians prop Tupou Lea’aemanu and No 8 Jack Loader, and then getting the better at the breakdown to limit the supply of ball to the home side’s dangerous outside backs.

“Defence is something we’ve been working hard on at training with [co-coach] Stan [Wright]. He’s making us get off the line on both sides of the ruck and shutting down any opportunity for them to come through.”

However, in many ways, Gladstone beat Carterton at their own game, led by some outstanding counter-attacking from Freddie Eschenbach.

The diminutive fullback sparked multiple attacks from the back, beating defenders with his pace, including setting up a brilliant 70-metre try from the second-half kick-off, involving an interchange of passes before flanker Eddie Cranston dived over the line for the second of his three tries.

He then scored an outstanding individual try, with a 30m sprint down the sideline after spotting a gap from the base of a ruck to give Gladstone an unassailable 30-10 lead.

Knell said Freddie Eschenbach’s pace and ad-lib style of play was an excellent acquisition for the team. Along with first-five Harry Eschenbach and second-five Jeremy Osborne, the trio was developing into an effective unit.

“It’s great having Freddie and Harry there. Jeremy is learning a lot and is a lot more confident at 12, and it’s a great little combo to have out there. I’m feeling a lot safer when the ball gets kicked back.”

Harry Eschenbach’s influence was evident in Gladstone’s fourth try when, after a period of sustained forward pressure, his beautiful cut-out pass gave Cranston the space to dive over for his hat-trick.

Carterton had their stars too – none more so than centre Aseri Waqa, who scored one brilliant individual try, beating several defenders in a 60m run from a kick-off, and was invariably dangerous on the counter-attack.

However, Waqa also let himself down with some basic handling errors, a problem that plagued Carterton throughout the game.

Poor discipline also let the home side down at crucial times, especially late in the game, with lock Sivo Karavaki sin-binned for asking referee Chris Jefferies, “How much are they paying you, ref?”

In the end, Gladstone were deserved winners, and although the final score flattered Carterton, they did pick up a valuable bonus point for scoring four tries.

EAST COAST 20
PIONEER 20

“We’ve proved that we’re an 85-minute team now.”

That was the verdict from Pioneer coach Victor Thompson after his team scored a late converted try to captain and No 8 Jonte Miller to snatch a valuable draw at Whareama.

Thompson said there were 30 seconds to play at the restart after East Coast had scored a try to take a 20-13 lead, but his team forced a turnover, with Miller scoring shortly afterwards. That left Reece Calkin – the winner of the inaugural Warren Reiri Shield for player of the day – with a conversion to secure the draw.

“We seem to be able to pull it out of the bag. There’s a never-give-up attitude now, and it’s just getting better.

“With the culture we’ve created in the team, we’re all bound together and believe in each other, and that helps,” Thompson said.

“We had three disallowed tries, so we were pretty stoked to clutch the draw from that.”

Thompson also praised East Coast for their determined effort.

“They pinned us down and were hammering us for pretty much the whole first half, and they tackled every single runner we ran at them – their defence was massive.”

EKETAHUNA 10
MARIST 38

Hayden Cooper, with ball, crossed for two tries in Marist’s big win over Eketahuna. PHOTO/FILE

Marist had a bonus point victory wrapped up at halftime at Eketahuna after a first-half blitz of 31 unanswered points.

Marist captain Peter Beech said his team scored some well-constructed tries off set pieces, two or three long-range tries, and a penalty try.

Eketahuna finally got on the scoreboard with two quick tries early in the second spell before Marist added a sixth try.

Promising young winger Hayden Cooper crossed for two tries, while the underrated Anthony Balks had another outstanding game in the number seven jersey.

“I’m really happy with that. The team is coming together really nicely,” Beech said.

“We won it in the first half, and it’s been a long time since we won in Eketahuna.”

The win lifted Marist to the top spot in the championship, but they would face a tough finish against East Coast at home and Carterton away.

GREYTOWN 7
MARTINBOROUGH 19

Losing the previous week to Carterton was the catalyst for Martinborough’s hard-fought victory over Greytown at Greytown.

“We learnt this week that prep is everything,” Martinborough coach James Bruce said.

“I fired a few shots during the week that a few boys needed to prove a point because we’d dropped off a bit, and they did well.”

Bruce said the forward battle was even, but Martinborough had a slight edge in the backs, and that proved to be the difference.

“Alex Priest played well at centre. His defensive reads were very good, and our senior players are really stepping up.”

Flanker Jared Hawkins, second-five Michael Bing, and winger Shane Coulton scored Martinborough’s tries, all in the first half, while the only points of the second spell were a converted try to impressive Greytown halfback Sam Walton-Sexton.

CHRIS ‘MOOSE’ KAPENE MEMORIAL CUP POINTS

Marist 21; Carterton 17; East Coast 16; Gladstone 15; Martinborough 13; Pioneer 11; Greytown 6; Eketahuna 2.

SENIOR RESERVE

Greytown-Carterton 17 Martinborough 34; East Coast 33 Pioneer 17; Tuhirangi 34 Marist 19; Masterton Red Star WBD over Gladstone.

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