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Adaptability key to success

Fine margins separate Coast championship contenders

On attack: Hikurangi halfback Neihana Ratahi-Brown has the goal-line in his sights in the game against Hicks Bay. Hikurangi won the match 27-22. Picture by Doone Harrison

Gisborne Herald by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
Published: July 10, 2019 4:12PM

The best teams adapt as they must — quickly.

Tempo in Week 13 of East Coast club rugby was what ground conditions and decision-making required — a grind, first and foremost.

In the second-to-last round-robin game before the semifinals, competition leaders Uawa (52 points) — at home to 2017 champions Tihirau Victory Club (41pts) — beat Cape Runaway’s finest 27-20 in Tolaga Bay.

At Kahuitara, 2016 winners Hikurangi (33pts) beat Hicks Bay (37pts) — who last appeared in a final four years ago — 27-22.

Te Araroa club Tokararangi (32pts) — who beat Hicks Bay 14-5 in the 2015 showpiece — ended Ruatoria City’s one-win season 31-5. City finished the 2019 competition with eight points.

Tokomaru Bay United (7pts), who had the bye on Saturday and are seventh on the table, will be at home to Uawa this weekend. Hikurangi are to host Tokararangi, and TVC will host Hicks Bay. Kick-off for all games is 2.30pm.

They are unbeaten on their own patch for good reason.

Uawa have won all six of their games in Tolaga Bay playing good rugby — from the 32-7 defeat of Hikurangi in Week 3 to Saturday’s 27-20 win against Tihirau Victory Club.

They can also take their show on the road, as they proved on May 11, when Uawa beat TVC 34-30 at Te Kura o Mana Maori o Whangaparaoa by scoring 19 unanswered points in eight minutes, from 30-15 down.

“It was another arm-wrestle that went our way — fitness and impact off the bench got us through,” Uawa captain lock Scott Lasenby said.

“We’ve got bumps and bruises. The big thing for us from now on is to maintain our high standards across everything we do.”

TVC skipper and second five-eighth-cum-halfback Moana Mato is likewise a level-headed leader of men.

“It was a clean game, well-controlled by referee Chris Wanoa and his crew,” he said.

“We come away from these clashes with Uawa knowing what we might have done — and need to do better against them in the future.”

After 11 minutes, following three phases of play, from a ruck just left of centre on the TVC 22, Uawa halfback Chris Richardson sent a cut-out pass to the right over the heads of two men and No.8 Storm Moran gave a back-flick for right wing Jordan Birch to score in the corner for 5-0.

In the 20th minute — after an attacking scrum set 15 metres off the right sideline, 15m from the TVC goal-line — Uawa retained possession over four phases for blindside flanker Niao Savage to score 15m off the right touch. Right-footer Richardson’s conversion made it 12-0.

Two such tries might have unnerved or broken lesser opposition, but TVC kept their composure and, 28 minutes in, a TVC lineout was ordered two metres out from the Uawa 22 on the right touch.

The visitors won their own ball and pacy centre Tawhao Stewart — their MVP (most valuable player) — dotted down in the right corner after four phases to close it to 12-5.

During that sequence of play, the things that make TVC so dangerous were on show. Skilful first-five Verdon Bartlett put Mato — and later Stewart — into space, hooker Rika Mato ran hard and halfback Ben Houia gave service with urgency.

In front of the posts, four minutes before the break, TVC fullback Peti Delamere kicked a penalty goal, and it was 12-8 to Uawa.

Four minutes into the second half — in front of the posts, 16m out — Richardson kicked his first penalty to increase the Uawa lead . . . 15-8.

Both penalty awards with a goal for either side to that point were given as a result of the tackler not releasing the tackled player on the ground.

TVC reserve second-five Dion Koopu scored a magnificent try 47 minutes into the game to close it to 15-13. From an attacking scrum set 10m short of Uawa’s goal-line, five metres off the right touch, Mato — now at halfback — swung the ball left to Bartlett, who found Koopu on the inside hit. Koopu took Uawa first-five Sam Parkes and left wing Tipene Meihana with him in the act of scoring. That try was not converted.

In the 57th minute, Uawa fullback BJ Sidney took the game to another level. From an Uawa attacking scrum on the TVC 22, 15m off the left touch, giant No.8 Adaam Ross pressed left initially. Richardson cleared the subsequent ruck right to Parkes, who went further to Meihana — the Uawa MVP — with Sidney stepping right then left through traffic over 18m to score, 15m in from the right corner for 20-13.

In the 71st minute, Sidney twice played a hand in perhaps the try of the match. Over six phases, Uawa took the ball from their scrum — set nine metres on their own side of halfway, 15m off the right touch — down the middle and towards the left touch.

Reserve blindside flanker Jack Richardson fielded a long pass from Parkes, tight-roped the sideline, got the ball in to Sidney and took a pass off the deck from Parkes, before throwing a dummy and stepping back off his left foot to score.

With Richardson’s conversion, the score was 27-13 to the home team but TVC had the final say with a try on fulltime.

From a tap-kick taken by Delamere 10m to the right of the posts, five metres short of the goal-line, they went left three times before lock Hoani Te Moana scored. Delamere converted from the left touch to make the final score 27-20 to Uawa.

Here is the unvarnished truth.

“Hikurangi have good young forwards — our pack was bigger — but it was a tough day for everybody.”

That was the view of Hicks Bay manager Graeme Summersby after The Maunga (Mountain) beat his outfit 27-22 at Kahuitara to retain the Pirika Huriwai-Jones Memorial Trophy.

Hikurangi No.8 Trent Proffit scored the opening try seven minutes into the game for 5-0; in the 14th minute, Hicks Bay No.8 Anton King had his try converted by first-five Leyth Delamere for a score of 7-5 to the visitors. Delamere then kicked a penalty for 10-5 in the 19th minute before Hikurangi right wing David Manuel scored for 10-all half an hour into the contest. Two minutes before the break, the Maunga’s MVP — athletic lock Te Maera Warmenhoven — scored to give the hosts a 15-10 lead.

Hikurangi halfback Hamuera Baker scored (no conversion) for 20-10 in the 55th minute; 62 minutes in, Hicks Bay lock Kazius Collier-Delamere hulked over the goal-line to close it to 20-15, and in the 65th minute, Warmenhoven scored again. That try was converted by Baker for 27-15. The visitors had the last say: King’s conversion of a try to reserve left wing William Blair in the 78th minute, to make it 27-22 to Hikurangi.

Hicks Bay saw the game as being forward-oriented at the outset, with Hikurangi cleverly changing tack — using the kick-and-chase option more frequently — from about the 25-minute mark. This had the effect of occupying defenders.

Hikurangi coach Doone Harrison said: “Our forward pack worked hard. Our team defence got us home in the end.

“And Isaac Hughes (Poverty Bay) has a big future as a referee. He didn’t miss anything.”

Ruatoria City deserve a pat on the back.

Their season ended on Saturday. Tokararangi, at home, beat City 31-5.

Tokararangi outscored the Lisa Muller-coached City by five tries to one.

For the hosts, outstanding young captain and No.8 Hone Haerewa (15th minute), blindside flanker Nathan Huriwai (20th minute) and first-five Slade Tiopira (on halftime) all scored tries before the break, Tiopira converting Huriwai’s try for a 17-0 halftime lead.

Tokararangi right wing Piripi Abraham’s try in the 50th minute was converted by Tiopira for 24-0 before City scored a great try through blindside flanker Shaun Aupouri to make it 24-5 at the 60-minute mark.

With eight minutes to go, Haerewa scored one more try — extras added by Tiopira — for 31-5.

Halfback Moana-Jay Kenworthy was Tokararangi’s MVP for his gutsy defence — he was estimated by his captain to have made at least 12 tackles — while lock Nathaniel Fox and openside flanker Samuel Dewes shared the MVP accolade for Ruatoria City.

City captain and No.8 Tim Barbarich said: “We fielded a competitive team with a strong bench — it was a good game of running rugby.”

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