Integrity Motors Pirates have given a name to their pain, and it is PGG Wrightsons/Ballance Taihape.
The country team have emerged as the true bogey side for the defending Tasman Tanning Premier champions and are now the owners of the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield after a committed second half lifted them to a 10-5 victory on a wind-chilled afternoon at Spriggens Park on Saturday.
Showing a notable lack of intensity through the second quarter after starting with a well-taken try to halfback Ricky Boniface, which was set up by the inside backs, Pirates could not capitalise further from the base camp inside Taihape’s territory which the gale winds afforded them.
Playing smart and simple 15-man phase rugby in the second stanza, Taihape scored shortly after the resumption when first-five Tom Wells sold Pirates a dummy to go under the posts.
With the exception of a late burst sparked by No8 Lasa Ulukuta before he hobbled off with a leg injury, Pirates could not get into position to give first-five Denning Tyrell something to work with.
Taihape’s tackling held true on a day where both teams gave away crucial penalties off their own ball at the second and third phase – referee Kawana Tihema binning Pirates lock Meni Taufaasau and Taihape centre Cyrus Paringatai while coming down hard on anyone going off their feet.
Pirates’ tactic in the first half of using the inside channel off the scrum with Ulukuta and winger Clive Stowers rarely bore fruit, while the Pirates back three of Stowers, winger Etuata Emana and Sevanalal Takevesi had a nightmare with fumbles when regathering kicks or making reckless passes when going down in the tackle.
Understandably when a messy game turns into a grind, it is the grafters who put their hands up and Wells, fullback Glenn Horton, and halfback Brett Nicholls delivered for the visitors.
A lot of praise has to go to unsung Taihape forwards like lock Ritchie Batley, who contested everything at the line-out and tackled all day, as well as props Hadlee Hay-Horton and Jason Huxtable, the latter coming in as cover for the injured Ritchie Iorns.
“At the moment, he’s our most valuable player,” said Taihape coach Kerry Whale of the rugged Batley.
Having no issue about fostering an ‘us vs the world’ mentality within his team, Whale is extolling his charges to push hard over this crucial fortnight as they will now line up for a home game with McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu – which could already be seen as a semifinal preview.
“That’s the next challenge, because we weren’t very good [today].”
“We’re happy – took out the threats, put ourselves in the position for the [home] semifinals.”
Pirates coach Phillip Morris agreed his team did not pick a good day to be flat.
While he felt the windy conditions made expansive play hard there is still a simple truth – Taihape have now beaten Pirates on a warm, dusty March day as well as a cold, windy June day, the common denominator being that at crunch time the county boys have had their number.
“No excuses, they played better in the second half,” said Morris.
“Just value the ball better in the second half and took the opportunities.
“Lack of execution [from our backs].”
Ulukuta was their best hope to swing the tide after some bone-jarring tackles, but when he went down hurt with Pirates camped right on Taihape’s tryline with four minutes left, the home side lost their steam.
It didn’t start that way as Boniface’s try was a thing of beauty – centre S’aena Vili finding the gap and feeding second-five Patrick Hiscox, who was ankle tapped but still offloaded to Emana, who linked back with Hiscox to put his halfback over after nine minutes.
Pirates infringed in front of the posts in the 16th minute and Wells closed the gap, while he nearly defied the wind late in the half as a penalty from the sideline dropped just short of the cross bar.
Tihema would march Pirates several times for backchat and it proved costly when Taihape were on attack just after the resumption, first being held up in a maul over the line and then coming back for the penalty where Wells jinked his way under the posts in the 48th minute.
Wells put in some booming clearances and well-weighted grubber kicks to clear Taihape territory as the clock wound down, which was helped by the Pirates backs making some painful fumbles.
The Taihape first-five narrowly missed a penalty chance to put the match out of reach, then the last ditch raid by Vili, Hiscox and Stowers was spilled out over the sideline with time up.
-PGG Wrightson/Ballance Taihape 10 (Tom Wells try, pen, con) Integrity Motors Pirates 5 (Ricky Boniface try). HT: 5-3 Pirates.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle