INTEGRITY Motors Pirates confirmed a clear changing of the guard by handing their old rivals McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu a heavy 31-6 defeat at Rochfort Park on Saturday.
Thoughts the former champions might be on an upswing were cast aside as Pirates generated all the momentum from the second quarter onwards, scoring two tries in each half while landing every goalkick.
They could have raised a much higher score if it weren’t for their never-ending turnovers at the breakdown through over-eager players getting isolated or Ruapehu’s veteran forwards stealing back possession.
While Ruapehu still won ascendancy at the breakdown and played their territory chess game through smart kicking, it was painfully obvious the former powerhouses of Tasman Tanning Premier no longer had the strike players to capitalise.
On their rare attacking opportunities they also made a series of uncharacteristic errors, turning inside passes straight into chasing Pirates hands.
By contrast, Pirates had strike weapons all over the park with their never-ending array of speedsters being willing to run it from deep in their territory or put up attacking chip kicks from their own 22m.
In seasons past, there was no way the visitors could have got away with those gambles or conceding that much turnover, but the understrength Ruapehu ended up completely reactive to their opposition,
Picking up the largest win he has experienced in Ohakune, Pirates coach Phillip Morris had an uneasy acceptance of the confidence of inside backs Denning Tyrell, Patrick Hiscox and Josaia Dawai to take some chances.
“It’s not necessarily what we tell them to do. They like to express themselves.”
Naturally they will work on retaining ball at the breakdown.
“It’s just setting targets, and getting numbers to the ball carriers,” said Morris.
“The first 20 minutes was the worst we played all year. Very happy with our defence in the second half; didn’t let them cross our chalk, and with how some of the younger guys stood up.”
He singled out winger Pena Ulukuta, fullback Etuati Emana, tryscoring flanker Faalafi Vave, and lock Meni Taufasau for strong performances.
The weight of territory still tells if turnovers are only occurring after 45m breakouts, and Ruapehu coach Chris Winter acknowledged his team could not stop Pirates.
“We didn’t gel; our heads weren’t in the game. “We just missed too many tackles. First-up tackles, easy metres.” Adding to his woes is halfback William Short who stayed on the sideline with concussion alongside skipper Peter Rowe (hamstring), while first-five Zyon Hekenui had to be helped off near fulltime with an injured ankle.
Hooker Roman Tutauha was again strong, but Ruapehu need to set him up to bust the line from 15m out, not 50m.
Ruapehu took advantage of Pirates losing their ruck ball for Hekenui to kick them to a 3-0 lead after 12 minutes.
But when Pirates finally clicked into gear they really turned it on as Dawai, Hiscox and Tyrell all beat their first-up challengers to send dangerous winger Clive Stowers charging to the line. The cover tackles just snared Stowers but Pirates recycled and prop Brett Turner came up with the try.
Captain Lasa Ulukuta then swung momentum further his team’s way with a monster hit on Ruapehu flanker Jackson Campbell, and shortly afterwards Stowers was off again breaking tackles.
Ruapehu prop Karl Parker managed to spoil the Pirates pass to save the try and fullback George Williams kicked them clear, but minutes later Stowers showed amazing strength to get the ball down amongst a sea of green jerseys.
Hekenui closed the gap to 14-6 nearing halftime, while second-five Troy Brown and winger Owen King had chances, before Pirates drove them out.
Tyrell replied after halftime to extend his team back out to 17-6, then Lasa Ulukuta and Taufasau both attacked the line and even though the ball kept spilling out in the tackle, Vave got it in his hands and dived low to score a deserved five-pointer.
Tyrell raised the bonus point in the 66th minute as he caught everyone out with a dummy and ran through some poor tackles to dash 22m for a fancy dive straight under the posts.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle