McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu are back in business this season.
The former power brokers of Tasman Tanning Premier competition might have brought a skeleton crew to Dallison Park on Saturday, but they played their classic kick and pressure game to upend Waverley Harvesting Border 25-14 and get right back in contention for a top four placing.
In one of the most intense games of the year, circumstances were perfect for the northern team as on a wet day, Border were without five regulars which left them brittle in two areas you must be strong against Ruapehu – hooker and fullback.
Regular prop Kamipeli Latu covered the No2 jersey while lock Andrew Retallick made the lineout throws, and captain Fraser Middleton moved from the back into the halves in place of Lindsay Horrocks.
When both teams are makeshift, the franchise players must step up and for Ruapehu the return of flanker Peter Rowe could not have come at a better time.
Second-five Troy Brown also had a strong match with some good runs and attacking kicks, as did fullback Zyon Hekenui coming into the front line.
Ruapehu found fifth gear in the final quarter as they booted towards space and the sole Border players covering would look up and find five green jerseys coming at them.
Ultimately there were three key moments in deciding the contest and it was the Ruapehu forwards who won the lot.
Firstly, No8 Andrew Evans collected one of many charge-downs right before halftime to put winger Taina Wallace over in the corner and close the gap to 11-10.
Then in the 50th minute, down 14-10, Ruapehu rolled the dice by going to the sideline on two penalties in easy range for Hekenui, and were rewarded the second time when flanker Jackson Campbell was on the end of his pack’s 10m maul over the chalk.
Shortly afterwards, Border got a similar penalty lineout opportunity and looked destined to score, until Rowe got hold of veteran Ray Stark and stopped him cold, turning the No8 over and trapping the ball to get the scrum feed.
Frustrations boiled over as jersey pulling turned into an all-in scrap on the Border 22m, although no one received a yellow card as the sheer number of participants obscured the referee’s view of the culprits.
Trapped in their own half with time up, a desperate Border had their scrum turned completely and when the ball spilled loose, Ruapehu reserve Teira Cowan snatched it and darted to the corner, planting the pill despite the attentions of Border’s Poasa Waqanibau and Bobo Ulukuta, easily the standouts in a beaten side.
Ruapehu coach Chris Winter, who had suited up to play if needed, knew how important the win had been.
“It’s definitely defining for us. Not other teams winning and losing, we want to get there ourselves. With the numbers, we’ve been down, but we’ve never lost the belief.”
He acknowledged the team’s confidence to go for the seven points at 14-10, given if they had been stopped short, mentally that might have been it.
“We sort of made a call at the start of the season – we want to win a game of rugby, not just kicks.”
Rowe’s contribution in his comeback match likewise could not be understated.
“He’s immense, [although] needed oxygen on the sideline,” said Winter.
Border coach Ross Williams said the conditions had played into the visitors’ hands.
“An outstanding game of football – points to Border first half, points to Ruapehu second half.
“If you knew the disruptions we had during the week, we played without a hooker.
“A lapse of concentration out wide with 11-10, that was the deciding of the game.”
Ruapehu initially struggled with turnovers and were pinged twice for Border first-five Jack Lupton to raise the flags, 6-0.
After they lost their lineout, Border defended hard against over 15 phases of Ruapehu drives and recycling, before Waqanibau was penalised for a questionable high tackle and Hekenui closed the gap.
Border responded as Middleton made a dart off a good pass from lock Sam Madams, and two phases later Stark bumped off his man and fed Retallick to dive over.
Lupton narrowly missed another penalty and then Border seemed to go to sleep, as Ruapehu grubbered and Evans swooped on the charge down, with Wallace picking up the loose pass to score and Hekenui converting from the sideline.
Border started the second half well with surging runs and got a penalty for a high tackle at the start of the second half, with Lupton extending the advantage to 14-10.
But for the final 30 minutes almost everything Ruapehu tried came off, with the Campbell try being followed by a Hekenui penalty with seven minutes left when Lupton got isolated by kick chasers, before Cowan’s try sealed the deal.
Ruapehu 25 (T Wallace, J Campbell, T Cowan tries; Hekenui 2 pen, 2 con)
Border 14 (A Retallick try; J Lupton 3 pen)
HT: 11-10 Border.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle