by Ben O’Brien-Leaf – Gisborne Herald
Published: September 17, 2019 4:38PM
They had the means, motive and opportunity.
Or put in a more humdrum way, Ngati Porou East Coast had enough ball, passion and territory to beat the King Country Rams.
As it was, the visitors at Hatea-a-Rangi Domain at Tokomaru Bay extended their 14-0 halftime lead to win the Week 4 Mitre 10 Heartland Championship clash 27-12 on Saturday.
The Coast’s sole tryscorer and MVP (most valuable player) was centre Zac Guildford, while King Country’s MVP was hard-running, hard-tackling second five-eighth Brad Armstrong.
With this result, NPEC (one competition point) remain in 12th position and King Country (12 competition points) have moved from ninth to sixth spot. The Rams’ win in Game 27 between the unions was their 24th. The Coast have won three.
“We had enough ball, territory and opportunities to win the game,” Coast head coach Wayne Ensor said.
“We’re a good attacking team, we just have to convert those close games into wins. We’re going to look to create pressure situations in the relatively short space of training time that we have together as a team.”
The Sky Blues were pleased with their performance at set piece. Captain and No.8 Hone Haerewa, lock Adaam Ross and reserve openside flanker Rikki Kernohan were all excellent value at the lineout. Blindside flanker Hoani Te Moana, who played a strong all-round game, even won ball against the throw in the second half.
Ensor said that Waikato’s Michael Winter was the best referee that NPEC have had one month into the eight-week round-robin. The Coast had the better of the penalty count in the first half and left wing Epeli Lotawa looked dangerous — twice the visitors showed him the sideline, twice he beat the first man — only for King Country’s cover-defence to scramble and force muffed passes or dropped ball with a try in the offing.
“That was a cracking game — it had everything . . . the crowd, the venue — and both teams went at it,” Rams head coach Craig Jeffries said.
The Coast gave his forwards a lesson in intensity at the breakdown, he said.
“Our fetcher Dan Baxter (right shoulder) returned from 12 months out of rugby to play 80 minutes.
“No.8 Chulainn Mabbett-Sowerby came off at halftime with an injury to his left knee, Doug Clapcott added energy at lock, and Nick Barnes (hooker) came on at reserve blindside flanker.”
In front of 500 fans, the game was played in fine conditions — no breeze to speak of — on a good surface. Excellent discipline from both teams meant that no yellow or red cards were issued.
King Country opened the scoring in the 20th minute. Nineteen metres out from the Coast’s goal-line on the left touch, Rams captain and loosehead prop Carl Carmichael secured possession at the lineout off their throw.
Four phases later, skilful first-five Evaan Reihana, going to the right, put up a chip-kick and centre Tana Tuakaraina pounced on the ball to score just in from the corner. Reihana converted from the sideline for 7-0.
In the 36th minute, Reihana intercepted a pass from Coast fullback Verdon Bartlett 10m into King Country territory — on what for the visitors was the right sideline — and King Country halfback Zayn Tipping, in his 50th game, handled the ball twice before giving fullback Alefosio Tapili the inside pass to score. Reihana again converted, for 14-0.
NPEC had put together seven phases before their guests seized upon only the second point-scoring opportunity King Country had, for Tapili’s try, in the first half. The home team had looked likely to score more than once.
In the second half, Reihana kicked a penalty goal at the 50th minute but what the home crowd had hoped to see eventuated in the 56th minute.
Coast tighthead prop Perrin Manuel’s strong tackle on Armstrong forced a turnover at King Country’s end of the ground and six phases later, NPEC halfback Sam Parkes got the ball to Guildford on the goal-line. Eight metres off the right touch, he stepped through traffic to score and close it to 17-5.
Reihana kicked his second penalty goal of the match in the 58th minute to make it 20-5 to King Country.
After 60 minutes, the Coast were awarded a penalty try by referee Michael Winter . . . 20-12.
Also in the 60th minute, King Country’s Whakataki Cunningham came on at reserve first-five for his 25th cap: his blazer game.
In the 77th minute, Tipping — King Country having won their own lineout throw 10m out from the Coast’s goal-line on the left touch — raced away to score but was held up short. Barnes got to the ruck, drove openside and got across for 25-12. Tipping converted Barnes’s try for 27-12.
“The game could have gone either way,” NPEC captain Haerewa said.
“The physicality was there; we had a crack at them.”
As always, Haerewa, attacked proceedings with great energy.
“Our scrum-effort meant that it was a close battle every time the boys packed down,” he said.
“The result? That’s just the way the cookie crumbled.”
In Week 5, Ngati Porou East Coast go to Cooks Gardens as guests of ninth-placed Wanganui (8pts), while King Country will host 11th-placed Horowhenua-Kapiti (6pts) at Te Kuiti, both games kicking off at 2.30pm this Saturday.