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Sloppy first 40 ends season

A stirring second-half fightback saw Copthorne Wairarapa Bush come within six points of a remarkable victory, but in the end, they paid for a sluggish first-half performance in their Lochore Cup semifinal at Trust House Memorial Park.

Wai Bush have been dogged by slow starts for much of the Heartland Championship, and again, they were haunted by an error-ridden opening 40 minutes in which they conceded four converted tries and a 28–3 scoreline at halftime.

The home side mounted a spirited effort to overturn the deficit in the second spell, but as in previous losses this season, they were eventually made to pay for a sloppy first half, a fact not lost on coach Reece Robinson.

“When you look at it, I’m really proud of the way the boys came out and played in the second half, and we had a chance to win it, but we were just a little bit short,” Robinson said.

“It’s been one of Achilles heels this year. We haven’t started well, and we have been a team that’s chased scores down. That probably falls back on me, and I’ve got to find why that’s happening, and I’ll get to the bottom of it.”

In many ways, though, Wai Bush were masters of their own destiny in the error-ridden first 40 minutes and were mercilessly punished for their inaccuracies and indiscretions by an efficient West Coast.

Halfback Isaac Bracewell had another outstanding game.

The first was a kick that fullback Aseri Waqa should’ve attempted to take on the full but let it bounce, which led to a 50–22, and from the resulting lineout hooker Troy Tauwhare scored from the driving maul that went about 15m.

A missed tackle by Charles Mataitai saw his opposite Logan Ross dive over for an easy try, while further tries to prop Tyler Kearns and first–five Jaime Garland gave the visitors a 25-point buffer at the break.

Wai Bush’s only first-half points came after seven minutes from the boot of first-five Andre Taylor before he hobbled off with a hamstring injury to be replaced by Tipene Haira.

Whatever Robinson told his troops during the break paid off when barnstorming prop Tupou Lea’aemanu barged over for the home side’s opening try, which was achieved with only 14 players on the field after veteran flanker Inia Katia had been sin-binned for a breakdown infringement.

The lead was soon back to 23 points, though, when Ross again benefited from some poor defensive work by Mataitai, spinning out of his opposite’s jersey grab on a 60m sprint down the sideline.

The rest of the half belonged to Wai Bush, with a try to hardworking loose forward BJ Campbell under the posts, and another to Katia, narrowing the gap to nine points with 15 minutes to play.

A Haira penalty made the score 33–27 with eight minutes left on the clock, meaning a converted try would seal a remarkable comeback, but try as they might, the “green and reds” could not find a way through the stubborn West Coast defence.

Wai Bush captain Sam Gammie on the charge.

The Wai Bush players could feel somewhat aggrieved, though, that a shoulder charge by big prop Kearns on second-five Tafa Tafa, who didn’t have the ball 22m out in front of the posts with five minutes to play, went unpunished by referee Will Johnson.

There was also frustration among players and the crowd with the West Coast tactic of a player going down at almost every stoppage, with their players clearly flagging under the home team’s pressure.

In the end, the defeat can be attributed to the poor opening 40 minutes, which was acknowledged by Robinson.

“The first half was disappointing. We spoke about keeping the ball in hand and working hard, and if you look at the first five minutes, we kicked it twice, and they punished us and scored.

“I’m super proud of the way we came out in the second half. If we had that mindset in the first, it would’ve been a different story.”

Although early on in proceedings, Robinson believed that a turning point was the loss of former Hurricane Taylor from the vital pivot’s role.

“Losing him early in the game, we lost a bit of momentum and a bit of direction.

“I thought Tipene did okay, but he was a big loss, just with his rugby knowledge and his organisation as a 10.”

Robinson thought that the team’s player of the day, Katia, had a tremendous game on attack and defence and put his body on the line, while Logan Wakefield, who impressed in open play and was a force in the lineouts, and halfback Isaac Bracewell were others to stand out for the coach.

Prop Tupou Lea’aemanu celebrates scoring Wai Bush’s first try.

The loss ended Wai Bush’s season, and although the team missed out on the Lochore Cup final, which would have been played in Masterton after Poverty Bay overcame a big deficit to upset North Otago, there were plenty of positives and significant improvement after bottom-four placings in the previous two seasons.

“There’s plenty to work on for next season, but I’m pretty proud of what the boys have achieved,” Robinson concluded.

Brief Scores
Wairarapa Bush 27 [Tupou Lea’aemanu, Inia Katia, BJ Campbell tries; Tipene Haira 3 cons, pen; Andre Taylor pen] West Coast 33 [Troy Tauwhare, Tyler Kearns, Jaime Garland tries; Loga Ross 2 tries, 4 cons] HT 3-28 when barnstorming prop Tupou Lea’aemanu barged over for the home side’s opening try, which was achieved with only 14 players on the field after veteran flanker Inia Katia had been sin-binned for a breakdown infringement.

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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