Pirates end half century drought +Photos
In 1958, the New Zealand pound was still currency, the first Kiwi supermarket opened, the 111 emergency number was introduced, and Integrity Motors Pirates last won Wanganui club rugby’s ultimate prize.
That was until Saturday at Spriggens Park as an inspired second half effort into the wind saw Pirates end a 56-year drought and deny the McCarthy’s Ruapehu dynasty a championship three-peat with a 23-17 victory in the 2014 Tasman Tanning Premier final.
Giving away first use of the high winds and looking to play in tight and on the drive, Ruapehu would have been supremely confident after only having their line breached once inside the opening quarter by Pirates fullback Samu Etuati. This meant they held the urgent home side to just an eight point advantage at the break – the identical halftime lead which was unsuccessfully defended in the preceding Senior final.
But at the turnaround Pirates big men responded, as they just bashed wave after wave inside Ruapehu’s territory throughout the second stanza.
The defending champions rarely used their huge kicking advantage and could only play as well as they were allowed after having to make an endless number of tackles.
While they weren’t flawless, Pirates front row of Brett Turner, Junior Tume and Willie Kabakaba had their best collective match of the year. They constantly got back up to hit the line again thereby laying a platform which gave maestro first-five Denning Tyrell time and options, while more importantly keeping Ruapehu well away from their danger zone.
Kabakaba drove back to the chalk to let halfback Ricky Boniface deftly place the ball on an open line.
Turner was then held up twice, before Tume caught Ruapehu asleep down an open blindside and fed reserve lock Sanelle Ah Chookoon for what proved the matchwinner.
Tellingly, only twice could Ruapehu get into close attacking position and they scored on both occasions.
First, hooker Roman Tutauha set himself to go over from a collapsed ruck only for Pirates to come up early, making referee Kawana Tihema jog to the posts.
Then with four minutes left, veteran reserve prop Shaun McDonough, who had already played a full Senior final, took the quick tap and smashed his way under the sticks to set up a pulsating conclusion.
The head wind actually proved a virtue after McDonough’s try as Tyrell’s kickoff did cross the 10m line before blowing back to the chasers, and although both sides snaffled possession inside the final two minutes, the action stayed in Ruapehu’s half as the clock ran out, with Pirates being mobbed by their reserve bench and club supporters.
Losing winger Robert Hughes to the sin bin for collaring Tyrell high in the 65th minute had not helped Ruapehu’s chances either, as Tume attacked that gap from the ruck for Chookoon’s try.
Ruapehu lock Sonny Woodmass and flanker Andrew Evans were reliable on a difficult day for securing lineout ball, while flanker Peter Rowe tried everything to keep back the tide of black jerseys coming at his team.
“We targeted that [Ruapehu] forward pack. We came to hunt that elusive cup,” said a smiling Pirates coach Phillip Morris, who spent three seasons moulding this team into title contenders.
“I thought we played a lot more rugby than them. Denning outstanding, he controlled the game. The front row was magnificent.”
Before the match, Morris had been told by elderly Pirates club members they could not go to their graves until they had seen a Premier title victory.
“So many smiles on so many people, who put so much into the club. It’s a special occasion.”
Both sides knew victory would go to the side who capitalised on the rare opportunities, and for Ruapehu coach Chris Winter, it was the “here and there” fumbles which gave away their impetus.
“More so crucial errors – when we got the ball we didn’t build enough pressure to cause them troubles,” he said.
“All credit to Pirates, they probably deserved that win.”
Ruapehu had still enjoyed another “stellar season” and with a good batch of Senior players expected to step up soon, Winter said there was still plenty to build on for 2015.
Not conserving energy, Pirates attacked from the outset, finally being rewarded when Tyrell’s perfectly weighted grubber kick was snapped up by Etuati in the 14th minute.
No8 Manulua Lafi was away with his two initial attempts, but landed the 24th minute penalty for 8-0, before Ruapehu’s pack counterattacked.
It appeared fullback George Williams may have scored in the corner but was ruled to have lost it, then shortly afterwards first-five Zyon Hekenui landed the penalty in front, 8-3 on a day where any score into the breeze was priceless.
Ruapehu dropped ball, missing touch and infringement let Pirates get back on a roll for another Lafi penalty in the 38th minute, while Hekenui missed his reply on halftime after his team captured the kickoff.
But any thoughts Ruapehu would now dominate through the wind were swept aside as Pirates, led by their captain Lasa Ulukuta, powered forward for eight phases of power running and recycling possession.
Lafi missed his penalty attempt, but another Tyrell grubber for Etuati put Pirates right in the 5m corner pocket, where Ulukuta and Kabakaba both had a crack before Boniface snuck in the open gate for a vital 18-3 lead after 49 minutes.
Stung into action, Ruapehu wingers Owen King and Hughes made line breaks, which was carried on by No8 Pehira Huwyler and centre Logan Vaughan, earning Ruapehu the first in a string of penalties.
Evans took the lineout throw and when Ruapehu drove Tutauha to the line, the maul collapsed and Pirates overextended trying to nab him, 18-10 after 55 minutes.
Pirates came roaring back through Tume and Kabakaba, forcing Ruapehu to defend a series of 5m scrums, while Turner twice claimed barge over tries which were ruled held up.
But after losing Hughes and then clearing their 22m zone, Ruapehu went to sleep following a Pirates penalty lineout, Tume dashing free and feeding Chookoon to crash over in the far corner with ten minutes left.
Ruapehu’s reserves in Brad Scarrow and McDonough tried to spark a revival, while Rowe also would not give up, driving Pirates backwards before getting a free kick in front of the posts, where McDonough just backed himself to break through the wall.
Hekenui quickly dropped-kicked the extras, but Tyrell and the Pirates forwards managed to keep Ruapehu trapped in their own half as the clock ticked over 80 minutes.
Premier championship –
Integrity Motors Pirates 23 (Samu Etuati, Ricky Boniface, Sanelle Ah Chookoon tries, Manulua Lafi 2 pen, con) bt McCarthy’s Ruapehu 17 (Shaun McDonough try, penalty try, Zyon Hekenui pen, con). HT: 11-3.
By Jared Smith – WANGANUI CHRONICLE