Ueta Tufuga dives over for Wai-Bush’s second try. PHOTOS/JADE CVETKOV
Mid Canterbury 28
Farriers Wairarapa-Bush’s chances of making one of the three Heartland Championship finals are hanging by a thread.
Wai-Bush had much the better of the first half at Trust House Memorial Park on Saturday and led 15-7 at halftime but they could not contain a powerful second half surge by Mid Canterbury and fell to their fourth straight loss.
The danger posed by the visitors’ contingent of big Fijians was evident in the first two minutes when lock Manasa Bari, running like an outside back, brushed off four tackles in a 40m run for the opening try.
The rest of the first stanza belonged to Wai-Bush, and they spent most of it hot on attack, only to be let down by basic errors, and conceding silly penalties.
Wai-Bush captain Johan van Vliet’s decisions to turn down kicks at goal, finally paid off after 23 minutes when prop Lewis Bush crashed over from a well-worked lineout drive.
The green and reds kept applying the pressure and Mid Canterbury were fortunate to not have a player in the sin bin for repeated infringements in their own 22, including a deliberate knock-down by first-five Tom Reekie.
Wai-Bush looked to have scored from another lineout drive only to be called for an obstruction when there were no Mid Canterbury players in the maul, but that was only one of many baffling calls from referee Stuart Curran from Manawatu.
The home side did eventually take the lead when centre Ueta Tufuga beat three defenders and crossed under the posts. A Moomoo Falaniko penalty from 41m gave the home side an eight-point buffer at the break.
That advantage was quickly eroded with tries to Reekie, and an outstanding try finished off by winger Raitube Vasurakuta, after a 50m move involving two brilliant offloads which gave the visitors a lead they never relinquished.
Falaniko and Reekie traded further penalties, before No 8 Seta Koroitamana scored from a quick tap from a scrum penalty, which appeared not to be taken from the mark, to extend the visitors’ lead to 10 points.
Not helping Wai-Bush’s cause was the penalty count of 17-11 against them, with many of Curran’s rulings confusing and inconsistent. Despite that though Mid Canterbury deserved the win, given their second half effort.
For Van Vliet, the loss wasn’t the result he wanted in his 50th first-class game in the green and red. He agreed they just didn’t score enough points in a dominant first 40 minutes.
“We spent nearly the whole half down there and we didn’t really get enough points early on and they bounced back in the second half and showed how to score when they put us under pressure,” said van Vliet
“The boys really showed ticker and we’re definitely getting better, but we didn’t quite play for 80 minutes, and we showed real promise, but unfortunately a few missed tackles and silly mistakes they capitalised off. You saw it from them; they put us under pressure, and we crumbled.”
Coach Mark Rutene was also left frustrated with the outcome.
“There was plenty of endeavour, but we got caned in the second half on penalties and just a few calls should have gone our way,” said Rutene.
“We probably should’ve taken some better options and we played well in the first half, but in the second half we just didn’t get enough ball, and we didn’t play well enough. We’re competitive but we just want to get a win.”
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Wai-Bush with three of their young guns having massive games, including props Bush and Jeramiah Mapusua, who were at the forefront of many of the forward charges, with their efforts impressing van Vliet.
“Those carries today from Jerry; I knew he had it in him and he’s got some good grunt in that engine of his and they’re both young boys so hopefully they stick in Wairarapa and hold up that front row in the next generation.”
Not far behind was halfback Isaac Bracewell, whose all-round skills stood out for the captain.
“If only I was still young enough to keep up with him,” said van Vliet.
“He’s got some legs, a great pass, and he’s got vision, and he will be one of those boys that probably won’t stick around in Wairarapa for long and he will be set for higher honours, that’s for sure.”
Wai-Bush must now win all four remaining games to sneak into a final, with probably the fifth-sixth playoff the most likely scenario, but it does get easier now. After playing four of the top five teams, they now meet three teams languishing near the bottom of the table, starting with West Coast at Memorial Park on Saturday.
Wairarapa-Bush 18 [Lewis Bush, Ueta Tufuga tries; Moomoo Falaniko con, 2 pens]; Mid Canterbury 28 [Manasa Bari, Tom Reekie, R Vasurakuta, S Koroitamana tries; Reekie con, 2 pens] HT: 15-7
Heartland Championship Points
South Canterbury 20; Thames Valley 19; Horowhenua-Kapiti 18; Mid Canterbury, Whanganui 15; North Otago 14; Poverty Bay 11; West Coast 6; East Coast 3; Wairarapa-Bush 1; Buller, King Country 0.