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Awful first half costs Wai-Bush

Horowhenua-Kapiti 24 Wairarapa-Bush 19

“Just bloody embarrassing!”

That was the succinct message from coach Reece Robinson after Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush slumped to a poor loss to an average Horowhenua-Kapiti [HK] outfit in Levin on Saturday.

The damage was done in the first half when the home side raced out a 21–0 lead, much of it due to Wai-Bush’s deficiencies rather than any HK creativity, and Robinson wasn’t beating about the bush in his assessment of the first 40 minutes.

“That first half was probably the worst half we’ve played this year and probably one of the worst halves I’ve seen a rep team play,” Robinson said.

“It was just bloody embarrassing that we put ourselves in a position like that. Just mentally, I think guys weren’t there, with dropped balls, stupid 50–50 passes, just unforced turnovers, and they turned them into tries.”

Fullback Leighton Ralph was the benefactor from two costly errors that resulted in the home team’s only tries. The first came after a strong run by Wai-Bush winger Nathan Hunt into HK territory, only for halfback Isaac Bracewell to throw a speculative pass, which was intercepted by Regan Verney, who kicked ahead with Ralph winning the race to the bouncing ball. Big lock Logan Wakefield showed his pace by chasing the flying fullback and forcing him to score wide out.

Ralph was in again 10 minutes later after Charles Mataitai spilt the ball with Wai-Bush hot on attack, and he outstripped the defence.

HK dominated territory for much of the rest of the half and made the visitors pay for poor discipline at the breakdown, with Jack Tatu-Robertsson slotting three penalties for a three-try advantage as the teams headed under the grandstand.

Whatever rocket Robinson gave his players appeared to work almost immediately after the restart. Bracewell strolled through a big gap to score under the posts, only for the try to be controversially overturned on the advice of the assistant referee, a decision that Robinson disagreed with.

“Talking to the linesman afterwards, he said someone crossed over, but looking at it, one of our locks has gone in and cleaned out their ruck and held him in the ruck, which you can do, and their first defender pushed out too far, and Isaac has gone through,” he said.

Tatu-Robertsson extended the lead to 24–0 after 47 minutes, but the rest of the game belonged to Wai-Bush.

Winger Nikora Ewe scored in the corner after a big bust up the middle by No. 8 Isireli Biumaiwai after 54 minutes. Bracewell scored in the same corner three minutes later from a move started inside their own 22, with fullback Aseri Waqa making the break and drawing the last line of defence to give the halfback a 35m run to the line.

Replacement first-five Tipene Haira then scored under the posts with 11 minutes to play, giving Wai-Bush a strong chance of completing a stunning come-from-behind victory.

However, HK captain Ryan Shelford used all of his 111 games of experience in calling for scrums for penalties and doing enough to hold on for their first win of the season, although confusingly, the final whistle blew with about 15 seconds left on the ground clock, and about 90 seconds on the live television coverage clock.

Although Wai-Bush’s second-half effort was a massive improvement on the first 40 minutes, Robinson was gutted with the result.

“We created opportunities, but I’m not taking anything away from HK I think they did their homework, and they’ve got some exciting players, and they just capitalised on our many errors and accumulated points.

“The intensity [in the second half] was better; we showed a bit of patience and were stringing phases together before we tried to strike and score.

“We played some good code, but we should’ve been playing like that in the first half, and it would’ve been a different story, but we had a crack at the end, and we had a chance but just couldn’t quite pull it off.”

Robinson identified individual skill sets not being up to speed for Heartland rugby as one of the key reasons for the inconsistency within the team.

“The issue is there are quite a few guys in our group who are probably not up to the level they need to be at present, or they’re not working on their skill sets enough, and it just goes to show that a lot of the players need a lot more work,” he said.

“There were probably a couple of players who played their last game yesterday [Saturday], and some of the performances were club-level performances, and we’ll probably give some other people opportunities.”

One of those under the gun could be first-five Ben Brooking, who tended to crab across field before passing and putting his outsides under pressure. Brooking was replaced by Haira after 32 minutes in what appeared to be a tactical substitution, although he also reported a minor back injury.

Not for the first time this campaign, Wai-Bush were slated in the penalty count, especially at the breakdown, and Robinson admits to some confusion at some of the rulings, with opposition teams not being penalised for lying on the ball or not rolling away east or west.

“The refs only have a split second to make a decision, and we need to be better at what we do around our clean out and other areas we’ve done a lot of work around, but it’s like the players switch off.”

There was disappointment before kickoff for veteran Greytown loose forward Tana Isaac. The 42-year-old was set to make his Wai-Bush debut off the bench, but he tweaked a calf muscle in warmup.

“He was gutted, but hopefully it’s not too serious, and we probably missed someone like him late in the game. He just needs to get himself right, and then he’s straight back in.”

Robinson is determined there won’t be a repeat effort, and he said there will be changes for the fifth-round clash with King Country.

“It was embarrassing, and there’s only one way we can fix that, and that’s by putting in a better performance next week against King Country.”

Wai-Bush are sixth in the standings after four rounds.

Brief scores

Horowhenua-Kapiti 24 [Leighton Ralph 2 tries, Jack Tatu-Robertsson con, 4 pens] Wairarapa-Bush 19 [Nikora Ewe, Isaac Bracewell tries, Tipene Haira try, 2 cons] HT 21-0

Other Heartland Results

Buller 21 East Coast 24; North Otago 22 South Canterbury 26; Poverty Bay 20 Mid Canterbury 23; Thames Valley 27 King Country 21; Whanganui 36 West Coast 12

Standings

South Canterbury 20; Thames Valley 18; East Coast 15; North Otago, Whanganui 12; Wairarapa-Bush 11; West Coast 10; Mid Canterbury 9; Poverty Bay 8; King Country 5; Horowhenua-Kapiti 4; Buller 2.

WOMEN

Wairarapa-Bush 34
Thames Valley 37

The Thames Valley Vixens scored a try in the final minute to deny a brave Wairarapa-Bush victory in a thriller at Trust House Memorial Park on Saturday.

Like their male counterparts in Levin, Wai-Bush started poorly and trailed 20–0 midway through the first half.

Two tries to the home side narrowed the gap to 25–10 at halftime, setting up the chance of a comeback.

The second spell belonged to Wai-Bush, and their pressure paid off. They took the lead when Kate Donald touched down for her third try of the game with about 10 minutes to play. They then had the chance to put the game out of reach with a seventh try, only for the player to knock the ball on over the line.

But it was all in vain as the Vixens manufactured one last effort to steal victory at the death.

As well as Donald, Paige Walker, Darian Walker and Brodee Walker crossed for tries for Wai-Bush.

Although disappointed not to come away with the victory, co-coach Scott Collins was impressed with the fightback.

“It was a good game, and we finished the stronger, but we just couldn’t quite close it out at the end,” Collins said.

Paige Walker again had a massive impact on the game and chewed up big metres with her ball carries.

Donald was outstanding, and prop Annemieke van Vliet played the full 80 minutes, despite carrying a shoulder injury.

Wai-Bush remain in fourth place in the North Island Heartland Championship after three rounds. They host King Country in a must-win clash on Saturday.

In other representative fixtures at the weekend, the Wairarapa-Bush Barbarians were well beaten 57–27 by Whanganui Development, and Wairarapa-Bush trounced Horowhenua-Kapiti 65–0 in an under-18 fixture in Levin. The Wai-Bush under-16 girls went 31–0 to Manawatu and 24–17 to Thames Valley in the game of three halves played at Memorial Park.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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