IT WAS THE final play of the final minute of the final game of the Tasman Tanning Premier round robin which decided where the top four teams will have their semifinals, and against whom, after Waverley Harvesting Border defeated PGG Wrightsons/Ballance Taihape 30-13 on Saturday.
Border flanker Sikeli Ulukuta stabbed through a fumbled Taihape ball, and kept it on the toe to score under the posts for his team to secure their four-try bonus point and go ahead of Taihape and Integrity Motors Pirates to finish top of the table.
This means Border play fourth-placed McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu in Waverley this Saturday, while Taihape travel to Spriggens Park and the Pirates’ lair.
Missing some key backs like Tom Wells and Glen Horton at Dallison Park, Taihape’s forwards had the better of territory and the ascendancy in the set piece for the first three-quarters of the game, and would not have been trailing 7-6 if fullback Luke Whale had greater kicking accuracy in the difficult, windy conditions.
Prop Ritchie Irons, aggressive flanker Dylan Malone and No8 captain Tremaine Gilbert made their presence known. They turned scrums, stole several key lineouts off the throw of Border hooker Cole Baldwin, and pressured the home team into several costly infringements spotted by referee Ben Lourie.
The opposing halves – Taihape’s Brett Nicholls and Taylor Transom against Border’s Lindsay Horrocks and Jack Lupton – had a hand in everything, which was both good and bad as they fluctuated between probing runs and good kicks, to bad dropped balls and missed touch-finders.
While Border were not as cohesive, individually they were very strong at man-on-man defence, with flanker Kieran Hussey, prop Kamipeli Latu and fullback Fraser Middleton holding back the tide.
Middleton and the other outside backs often struggled to keep their footing while chasing the ball on the torn-up and muddy Waverley pitch.
Centre Poasa Waqanibau looked dangerous with every touch and when Border began to wear their depleted opposition down, they turned it on the fourth quarter, scoring three tries from inside Taihape’s 22m zone.
Interestingly, Ulukuta’s fourth try was completely fortuitous, given that late in the match Border were seemingly happy just kicking for territory while setting up second-five James Forsythe to make three dropped goal attempts, from which he nailed two.
Coach Ross Williams was pleased to earn the home semifinal while also winning on the club’s Old Timers Day, which celebrated the 1995 club champions from Waverley.
“Eventually we went forward and allowed to ball to move through the backs.”
Asked about going for the dropkicks and seemingly settling for four competition points and another game with Taihape, he said: “I think maybe there was a thought around where you wanted them to play.”
“I wasn’t impressed with us at all today,” Williams said. “Our discipline was poor, our handling was poor. We’re going to have to be a hell of a lot better next weekend.”
In the other dressing room, Taihape coach Kerry Whale look very disappointed to have lost the initiative, as his team had hoped to be the ones facing Ruapehu, on Taihape’s home ground at Memorial Park.
“It’s the little things that skin you,” he said. “That score doesn’t reflect that game, but good on them. It was a bloody good contest.”
The team will welcome back five more players for the semifinals, he said.
Both sides made some hard tackles to force errors in the early exchanges, with Whale’s first 45m penalty attempt being away into the wind.
Border drew first blood after they drove off a penalty lineout and Latu charged into a gap, being dragged down at the line and laying the ball back for prop partner Clint Skedgwell. The ball was freed and Waqanibau could not be stopped from that close.
But from this point, Taihape had the better of field position for the rest of the half, although dropped ball blighted their opportunities, as fumbles also did to Border’s attempts to relieve pressure
Whale kicked a penalty in the 17th minute but was away on two more attempts, including just before halftime.
A Nicholls and Irons combined bust got Whale close enough for a 50th-minute penalty to close the gap to one point.
Collecting one of many midfield kicks, Border went wide then swung infield where Waqanibau took four defenders down with him, creating an overlap for winger Tom Symes to cross untouched.
Border were charging now and reserve forward Kane Brisco grabbed an overthrown Taihape lineout ball to power over from close range and 17-6.
Taihape regrouped, driving off a ruck and got a series of free kicks, ending up on Border’s line where reserve forward Hoani Woodhead burrowed over and Transom made a great conversion for 17-13.
Waqanibau was still threatening and even lock Sam Madams put through a chip and chase, as Border worked forward and put Forsythe in the pocket for his first dropped goal. He was well away with a second attempt but let another fly amid a backline spread to make it 23-13 with four minutes left.
Border seemed content to keep Taihape pinned deep, but the visitors were desperate and when Taihape lost control of the ball, Ulukuta swooped for the fourth try.
-Waverley Harvesting Border 30 (Poasa Waqanibau, Tom Symes, Kane Briscoe, Bobo Ulukuta tries, Jack Lupton con, James Forsythe con, 2 dg) PGG Wrightson/Ballance Taihape 13 (Hadlee Hay-Horton try, Luke Whale 2 pen, Taylor Transom con). HT: 7-3.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle