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Horror start for Wairarapa-Bush

Charles Mataitai [with ball, playing against Wellington Centurions] had some strong runs against North Otago. PHOTOS/FILE

RUGBY

Wairarapa-Bush 5
North Otago 35

It took just 26 seconds for the reality of the Heartland Championship to hit Farriers Wairarapa-Bush.

That’s how long North Otago needed to score the first try in their opening round clash on Sunday night at Central Energy Trust Arena, Palmerston North.

The try came after North Otago forwards forced a turnover at the second breakdown, and the ball was scrambled wide for right winger Ben Paton to stroll over untouched.

The Old Golds extended their lead to 12-0 after 12 minutes when left winger Mone Samete started a counterattack from inside his half, had too much pace for the flailing defence, and passed inside for halfback Mataitine Feke to score.

A shellshocked Wai-Bush gradually worked into the game and, gaining their share of possession, had the better of the latter part of the first half but struggled to break the opposition defence.

Their endeavours finally paid off when winger Charles Mataitai with his first chance to run with the ball, made a powerful 30m surge.

Livewire halfback Sam Walton-Sexton took a quick tap penalty, and hooker Sam Siaosi crashed over from an ensuing ruck to close the gap to seven points at halftime.

North Otago extended the lead with a penalty two minutes into the second half. However, the defining moment came after 52 minutes when referee Will Johnston sin-binned Wai-Bush replacement prop James Coburn, who had only just come on to the field, for not rolling away, in what appeared a harsh call given that he was pinned in the ruck, and there had been no prior warning.

North Otago capitalised on the extra space scoring 13 points, including tries to Paton and fullback Levi Emery, and took the game out of Wai-Bush’s reach. A 70th minute try to the impressive Samete wrapped up the scoring.

Wai-Bush could feel aggrieved that North Otago didn’t finish the game a man down after replacement winger Matthew Vocea deliberately knocked the ball down when the Green and Reds had a two-man overlap, only for Johnston to go back for a prior infringement.

Although the final score flattered North Otago, they were deserved winners, with their big powerful ball runners proving too much for Wai-Bush, a point not lost on coach Mark Rutene.

“They’re a good team, they’re just big and their ball carriers just wore us down,” Rutene said.

“We didn’t start well but we came back, and we were in it at halftime, but just the weight of numbers and the size wears you down.”

Rutene said in contrast, his side struggled to get going forward.

“They always seemed to be getting front foot ball, and they were making gain line, and when you’re going around the corner it was hard all the time. When we carried, we struggled to make gainline and we generally had to over commit to the ruck and the next pod coming around just couldn’t get over the gain line, so we were always under pressure.”

Rutene was impressed though with the character shown by the side to come back after the horror start.

He also admitted being confused by some of the refereeing decisions.

“I thought the number of penalties against us was harsh given that they were doing exactly the same thing going off their feet at the ruck when they had the ball and they were getting away with it, and I was a little bit confused with some of the refereeing – the penalty count would have been two to one against us, but a lot of teams that have the ball will get the penalties.”

Sam Gammie had a strong game at No 8.

Big hooker Siaosi, Zimbabwe international prop Doug Juszczyk, captain James Goodger, and No 8 Sam Gammie impressed with their work rate at the breakdown, while debutant Mataitai showed he is a potent attacker although he had limited opportunities.

Captain Goodger told Sky Sport after the game that there were no excuses and that discipline let the side down.

“When you start on the back foot, it’s hard to come back, but we’ve just to keep our heads high and build from here,” Goodger said.

“If we want to be Meads [Cup] contenders, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

“There were a lot of positives to take from it and a lot of negatives as well to fix, and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve just got to put the time and effort in and go from there starting from Tuesday.”

Gladstone lock Will Porritt’s Heartland campaign could be over after suffering broken ribs in a powerful tackle, leaving the team with only two locks after veteran Peter Beech tore a bicep tendon the previous weekend.

Wai-Bush’s next outing is away to Poverty Bay on Saturday, in the inaugural challenge for the Bill Osborne Taonga, the Heartland equivalent of the Ranfurly Shield.

SCORES

Wairarapa-Bush 5 [Sam Siaosi try] North Otago 35 [Ben Paton [2], Mone Samete, Mataitine Feke, Levi Emery tries; Josh Robertson-Weepu 2 pen, 2 con]. HT: 5-12.

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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