Second five-eighth Mike Lealava’a in action for Wairarapa-Bush. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV
It had been more than a year since their last Heartland Championship victory, but Wairarapa-Bush finally tasted that winning feeling once again on Saturday, claiming a bonus point win over East Coast in Ruatoria.
That last victory also came against East Coast when Wairarapa-Bush won 36-10 on September 2 last year in Masterton.
Saturday’s 26-5 victory is a much-needed confidence boost after two heavy defeats in the opening two rounds, and it was built on a dominant display from the Wairarapa-Bush forward pack.
It was clear throughout the match that Wairarapa-Bush were the more skilful team, but the boggy conditions acted as a leveller and ensured scoring points would be hard work for both teams.
Wairarapa-Bush started strongly and after 10 minutes found themselves attacking the East Coast line.
Several phases went by before first five-eight Glen Walters threw a cut-out pass to winger Tristan Flutey, who jinked back inside the defence before finding centre Matt Henderson who crossed in the corner.
Wairarapa-Bush had started strongly in both of their opening two matches, but had struggled to maintain the momentum.
Coach Joe Harwood had indicated that would be crucial to their chances on Saturday, and he would have been pleased with the way his players responded to that particular challenge.
In the 23rd minute Wairarapa-Bush found themselves with a midfield scrum, and No 8 Kirk Tufuga set off on a typically strong run before some quick hands put Flutey in space down the right flank.
Wairarapa-Bush were patient as they went into their phases, and eventually the pressure was too much for East Coast to contain as second five-eighth Mike Lealava’a crossed from close range.
That completed the scoring for the first half, with Tufuga, prop Sam Gammie and captain James Goodger leading the way in an impressive Wairarapa-Bush forward effort.
The second half continued much like the first, with both teams keeping the ball tight in the tricky conditions.
Wairarapa-Bush turned down a kickable penalty in search of another try early in the half and found their way over the line, only for the play to be called back for a forward pass.
It did not cost them in the end, however, as Gammie scored two well-deserved tries to extend Wairarapa-Bush’s lead and cap off a stunning individual match.
East Coast did manage a consolation try, but this was Wairarapa-Bush’s day.
The forward pack laid the platform for Wairarapa-Bush to flourish, and the backs were able to capitalise in difficult conditions.
Halfback Inia Katia looked assured in the role after spending the first two matches at fullback, while first five-eighth Glen Walters led the team around the park.
Flutey was a standout on the wing, and showed how dangerous he can be when given room to move.
The win was especially important when looking at the teams Wairarapa-Bush will take on in the next few weeks, with matches against Buller [home], Horowhenua-Kapiti [away] and South Canterbury [home] coming up.
Wairarapa-Bush are seventh on the points table with seven points, four points outside the top four.
Heartland results: Wairarapa-Bush 26, East Coast 5; Thames Valley 43, Buller 22; King Country 22, North Otago 18; Mid Canterbury 36, West Coast 29; Wanganui 53, Poverty Bay 0; South Canterbury 52, Horowhenua-Kapiti 29.
WAIRARAPA-BUSH 26 [Sam Gammie 2, Matt Henderson, Mike Lealava’a tries; Glen Walters 3 con] beat EAST COAST 5 [Jayden Milner try]. HT: 14-0.