by Ben O’Brien-Leaf – Gisborne Herald
It was gritty.
The Thames Valley under-18 rugby team beat their Ngati Porou East Coast opposites 19-12 yesterday, but left Whakarua Park in Ruatoria knowing they’d been in a fight.
“We pinched lineout ball from them — as they did to us — and while we lost a couple of scrums at the start, we ended up holding our own,” NPEC head coach Jesse Haenga said.
“Among our best tacklers were openside flanker Hunter Nuku and halfback Te Aho Haenga, who won our MVP (most valuable player) awards for forward and back respectively.”
Thames Valley coach Mike Voykovich said his team’s communication was good.
“We got some reward for getting the ball out wide,” he said.
“The Coast, too, had boys who tackled willingly and ran hard with the ball in hand.”
The Coast kicked off with a fitful sou’wester at their backs in heavy rain. This was the Valley’s ninth game for the season and the formidable Valley pack were primed for what was expected — and did eventuate — in the form of a tough grind through trying conditions.
Valley first five-eighth Baylee Edwards opened the scoring nine minutes into the first half with a try. Fullback Manaia Church kicked the conversion for 7-0.
Seventeen minutes in, NPEC captain and tighthead prop Israel Parker got the ball down for a halftime score of 7-5 to the visitors.
In the 50th minute, Church scored a try but missed the conversion for 12-5 to the Valley.
In the 59th minute, Sky Blues centre Quentin Takarangi got the home team’s second try, which — on first-five William Martin’s conversion — drew the Coast level with the Valley, 12-all.
Thames Valley No.8 Javani Lolesi struck the killer blow for his team in the 67th minute. He scored the fifth try of the match for 17-12.
Lolesi and Church were the Valley’s forward and back MVPs.
The Coast next play Wanganui in Palmerston North on Saturday, while Thames Valley play the Waikato Harlequins at Paeroa Domain as the curtain-raiser for the Thames Valley Swampfoxes-Ngati Porou East Coast game.