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Wai-Bush hot and cold in vital win

Wairarapa-Bush 35
King Country 26

Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush retained the Lochore-Meads Memorial Scroll and moved a step closer to securing a playoff spot in the Heartland Championship with a gutsy win over King Country.

The five points earned for scoring five tries moved Wai-Bush to fifth in the standings [a home semifinal in the Lochore Cup] and just one point outside the Meads Cup top four.

Coach Reece Robinson had demanded a much better start at Trust House Memorial Park than the sluggish effort away to Horowhenua-Kapiti the previous Saturday when they trailed 21–0 before mounting a comeback.

He got it with the home side racing out to a 19–0 lead on the back of a dominant forward performance resulting in tries to No. 8 Isireli Biumaiwai within the first two minutes, winger Charles Mataitai who outstripped the defence in a 55m run to the line, and prop Tupou Lea’aemanu barging over from a 5m lineout.

Mataitai could have had a second only to be taken out by a good tackle in the corner and injuring his elbow in the process, which led to him being replaced by new loan player Jayden Keelan shortly afterwards.

Trailing by 19 points seemed to be the spur King Country needed, and they dominated the remainder of the half, scoring two tries, the second of which looked suspiciously like it came from a forward pass, and closing the gap to seven points at the break.

King Country made the home side pay for a sluggish start to the second half with a try to lively halfback Chedyn Mani under the posts to lock up the scores.

First-five Tipene Haira, who had an excellent game leading the team around the field, slotted two penalties before Keelan showed his wheels and stood up his opposite to score in the corner, with Haira’s superb conversion giving the ‘green and reds’ a 32–19 lead with 20 minutes to play.

The visitors weren’t done, though, and a long-range converted try set up an intriguing finish.

Fullback Aseri Waga looked to have secured the win with a try, only for it to be ruled out for a double movement, but Haira made sure of victory, kicking a clutch penalty from 25m out on a wide angle and sealing the valuable five points.

Although rapt at bagging a crucial victory, Robinson was disappointed the players went off the boil in patches.

“We showed in that first half, especially early on, that we played some good rugby, but I think the disappointing thing in that first half was we sort of fell asleep in the last 10–15 and let them back in the game,” Robinson said.

“I thought our ball carrying and our breakdown in the first 20 was really good and a lot better than the past, and the forwards did a really good job there.”

Robinson felt some poor options early in the second half put the team under pressure, but he was pleased with the players showing good character to fight back.

“We showed some good signs, and the bench made not a bad impact, but we’re guilty still of having patches of falling asleep, and they exposed us around the ruck area, and that’s an area we spoke about during the game, and we got the message out there to get those A and B defenders in there and set.

“The good thing is we got the result we wanted, and we got the five points, and it was pleasing to see we’re heading in the right direction, and we did play some really good code in both halves, but it’s got to be a lot better and more consistent.”

Robinson was particularly satisfied with the forward effort at scrum and lineout time, saying, “It was probably our best performance at set piece; even at kick-offs, we did pretty well.” However, he wants more urgency in executing attacking lineouts.

“We want to play at tempo, and any penalty opportunities we get, we need to pre-call our lineouts and get in there as quick as we can and execute because we want to speed everything up, and that gives less time for the defence to set.

“I’ve just found it’s been too slow and it’s been four or five seconds before the ball is thrown and the ball needs to be thrown in just as we’re getting into the lineout to put the defensive team under more pressure.”

Flanker Epeli Rayaqayaqa had an outstanding game filling in for the rested Inia Katia and made some bruising tackles, forced turnovers and was a strong ball carrier. Wai-Bush player of the day second-five Tafa Tafa showed why he was missed against Horowhenua-Kapiti, with his go forward through the middle eating up plenty of metres, while his astute kicking added another dimension.

Haira was sound at first five, and his quick distribution gave his outsides more time and space, while Lea’aemanu, fellow prop Stan Wright Jnr, captain and lock Sam Gammie, and the big Fijian brothers Isireli and Malakai Biumaiwai were prominent ball carriers, especially in the dominant first quarter.

Wai-Bush would virtually lock in a playoff spot with a victory over winless Buller in Westport on Saturday.

Brief Scores

Wairarapa-Bush 35 [Isireli Biumaiwai, Charles Mataitai, Tupou Lea’aemanu, Jayden Keelan tries; Tipene Haira 3 pens, 3 cons] King Country 26 HT 19-12

Other Heartland Results

East Coast 31 Poverty Bay 11; Horowhenua-Kapiti 33 Buller 22; Mid Canterbury 31 Thames Valley 34; North Otago 19 Whanganui 34; South Canterbury 39 West Coast 26;.

Standings

South Canterbury 25; Thames Valley 23; East Coast 20; Whanganui 17; Wairarapa-Bush 16; North Otago 12; West Coast, Mid Canterbury 11; Horowhenua-Kapiti 9; Poverty Bay 8; King Country 6; Buller 3.

WOMEN
Wairarapa-Bush 14
King Country 46

King Country were too big and too slick for a brave Wairarapa-Bush at Trust House Memorial Park on Saturday.

Wai-Bush had hoped to finish their run of three home games in the North Island Heartland Championship win, and although they fought bravely were no match for their more polished opponents.

Both teams were intent on moving the ball wide from the kickoff, but the visitors made the better start, taking a 14–0 lead before Wai-Bush opened their account with a try to halfback Darian Walker after a period of sustained pressure.

From then, though, King Country dominated, and they built a 41-7 lead before flying fullback Kate Donald scored the try of the day, let alone the game – a brilliant solo effort from her own 10m line, gassing the defenders to score under the posts, even more remarkable given that she said she suffered a rib injury in the first half.

Donald was outstanding for Wai-Bush, making several telling runs, often carving through the opposition defence like hit butter, while No. 8 Paige Walker was, as usual, a powerful ball carrier, as was prop Annemieke van Vliet before she went off with concussion late in the game.

The loss ends any prospect of Wai-Bush playing in the inaugural final, and they must now beat Poverty Bay on Saturday to make the third–fourth playoff in Taupo the following weekend. Wai-Bush player of the day second-five Tafa Tafa showed why he was missed against Horowhenua-Kapiti, with his go forward through the middle eating up plenty of metres, while his astute kicking added another dimension.

Haira was sound at first five, and his quick distribution gave his outsides more time and space, while Lea’aemanu, fellow prop Stan Wright Jnr, captain and lock Sam Gammie, and the big Fijian brothers Isireli and Malakai Biumaiwai were prominent ball carriers, especially in the dominant first quarter.

Wai-Bush would virtually lock in a playoff spot with a victory over winless Buller in Westport on Saturday.

Brief Scores

Wairarapa-Bush 35 [Isireli Biumaiwai, Charles Mataitai, Tupou Lea’aemanu, Jayden Keelan tries; Tipene Haira 3 pens, 3 cons] King Country 26 HT19-12

Other Heartland Results

East Coast 31 Poverty Bay 11; Horowhenua-Kapiti 33 Buller 22; Mid Canterbury 31 Thames Valley 34; North Otago 19 Whanganui 34; South Canterbury 39 West Coast 26;.

Standings

South Canterbury 25; Thames Valley 23; East Coast 20; Whanganui 17; Wairarapa-Bush 16; North Otago 12; West Coast, Mid Canterbury 11; Horowhenua-Kapiti 9; Poverty Bay 8; King Country 6; Buller 3.

WOMEN
Wairarapa-Bush 14
King Country 46

King Country were too big and too slick for a brave Wairarapa-Bush at Trust House Memorial Park on Saturday.

Wai-Bush had hoped to finish their run of three home games in the North Island Heartland Championship win, and although they fought bravely were no match for their more polished opponents.

Both teams were intent on moving the ball wide from the kickoff, but the visitors made the better start, taking a 14–0 lead before Wai-Bush opened their account with a try to halfback Darian Walker after a period of sustained pressure.

From then, though, King Country dominated, and they built a 41-7 lead before flying fullback Kate Donald scored the try of the day, let alone the game – a brilliant solo effort from her own 10m line, gassing the defenders to score under the posts, even more remarkable given that she said she suffered a rib injury in the first half.

Donald was outstanding for Wai-Bush, making several telling runs, often carving through the opposition defence like hit butter, while No. 8 Paige Walker was, as usual, a powerful ball carrier, as was prop Annemieke van Vliet before she went off with concussion late in the game.

The loss ends any prospect of Wai-Bush playing in the inaugural final, and they must now beat Poverty Bay on Saturday to make the third–fourth playoff in Taupo the following weekend.

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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