IT was the sort of game that left both coaches encouraged by what their teams produced.
Poverty Bay defeated Ngati Porou East Coast 27-19 at a chilly Whakarua Park, Ruatoria, on Saturday, but they had to erase a halftime deficit and then fend off a strong late challenge from the hosts.
Poverty Bay were tested but prevailed in the pre-season hit-out. Their patterns worked in the end.
On limited preparation, Ngati Porou East Coast put up a game performance.
“Our boys played with a lot of heart,” Coast co-coach Wayne Ensor said.
Their fitness looked to be in question in the second half but then they came back into the match and appeared capable of setting up a grandstand finish.
Poverty Bay coach Tom Cairns said his side had to make adjustments at halftime, narrowing their attack in the blustery conditions.
They seemed to click early in the second half.
“It shows what we can do when we stick to our style,” Cairns said.
“Credit to the Coast — they pushed us.”
Whakarua Park was nice under foot but it took a while for both teams to find their groove.
Both had a high error rate in the first 10 minutes.
Ngati Porou East Coast seemed to settle quicker and nabbed the first try when impressive second five-eighth Epeli Lotawa eyed a gap down the left flank, evaded defenders and scored next to the posts.
First-five Chris Richardson converted to put the Coast ahead 7-0.
Poverty Bay looked like hitting back straight away when right wing Nathan Rangihuna tip-toed down the touch line and then the backs spun it wide to the left but the final, low pass was spilled.
They were next to score, however. Second-five Reihana Wyllie beat a defender and put Rangihuna into space on the outside and he dotted down.
The try was unconverted but Poverty Bay went ahead 8-7 through a penalty goal.
The Coast had their own chances to slot a penalty but they chose to kick for the sideline.
They were rewarded for their enterprise and persistence when prop Perrin Manuel crashed over for a try.
That gave Ngati Porou East Coast a 12-8 lead at halftime but Poverty Bay scored soon after the break. Left wing Korey Love called for the ball to go wide — it did and he dived over in the corner.
No.8 Tamanui Hill extended the lead for Poverty Bay, picking up the ball after a strong scrum and finding the try-line.
Lock Gabe Te Kani showed his strength, taking several defenders with him as he planted the ball down for Poverty Bay’s final try.
Down 27-12, Ngati Porou East Coast were not done yet.
A quick tap led to centre BJ Sidney getting an offload to Lotawa, who crossed for his second try.
If they had managed to score again, Poverty Bay might have had trouble containing a Coast side on the charge, but the visitors’ goal-line defence held firm.
Poverty Bay retained the PJ Sayers Cup, which is up for grabs whenever the teams meet on the Coast.
All Black legend Sir Michael Jones, who attended the match, said he was impressed with the skills of both sides in their first hit-out of the season.
They made mistakes early on, “but the passion was there”.
Poverty Bay took control in the second half but East Coast hung in there till the end, he said.
For the Coast, Lotawa was named their most valuable player, and lock Scott Lasenby was a reliable ball-winner in the lineouts.
Hard-working prop Toru Noanoa was Poverty Bay’s MVP.
Poverty Bay’s locks, Te Kani and captain Ken Houkamau, took the ball up strongly and openside flanker Adrian Wyrill was dynamic.
Poverty Bay had the wind in the first half but didn’t really use it to their advantage.
First-five Kelvin Smith had a solid outing and had the backline firing in the second half, and Caleb Lewis was sound at centre.
Poverty Bay 27 (Nathan Rangihuna, Korey Love, Tamanui Hill, Gabe Te Kani tries; Andrew Tauatevalu pen, Kelvin Smith 2 con)
Ngati Porou East Coast 19 (Epeli Lotawa 2, Perrin Manuel tries; Chris Richardson 2 con).
HT:12-8 (East Coast).