WELCOME to playing rugby in the Heartland – where one road incident can keep the opposition away, with no last-minute chartered flight options available as with the professional teams.
Steelform Wanganui were able to salvage their weekend training camp with a good hit-out against their own Wanganui Development XV at Rochfort Park on Saturday afternoon when their scheduled King Country opponents could not make it to Ohakune.
A truck crash on State Highway 4 from National Park to Raetihi closed the road, leaving the King Country Heartland and Development teams stuck on their bus at 10.30am before eventually deciding to turn around and head back to Turangi to play a pre-season game among themselves.
Wanganui did the same at Rochfort Park, as the senior team beat their Development counterparts 34-5 in muddy conditions that involved everything from snow to sunshine with a temperature of 5C.
Switching to Ruapehu club jerseys, Development made the top team work for their victory, as a breakout try just before halftime closed the gap to 10-5.
Wanganui’s superior strength and speed in their outside backs saw them romp away in the final quarter, the game being played with full 40-minute halves.
Given the circumstances, Wanganui coach Jason Caskey was pleased the secondary side, which included several fringe players unlucky to miss the top team, had really dug in.
“It was a good hit-out and the Development boys went bloody well.”
Caskey will now “hope for a dry track” at Cooks Gardens this Saturday when Wanganui play the Hawke’s Bay Saracens Development XV, and he will delay naming his final 26-man squad for the Heartland campaign until after that match.
Of the two invited guest players, big Manawatu prop Isaac Tupai showed glimpses of his power, while the Hawke’s Bay’s former NZ Sevens player Trinity Spooner-Neera had his own transport issues and did not attend.
Spooner-Neera’s car slid on ice on the journey to the Raetihi camp and, although unhurt and with no damage, the young man was understandably shaken and called Caskey, who told him to just head home and rejoin the team at the weekend.
No8 Bryn Hudson was another on the sideline after injuring his hamstring at last Wednesday’s training.
Wanganui forwards got two close-range tries from front rower Brett Turner and loose forward Fraser Hammond to take a 10-0 lead, although Turner had to later go off with a strain.
Centre Poasa Waqanibau was looking dangerous with most touches as winger Jaye Flaws was eager to get in synch with him, which could lead to a few tries down that corridor in Heartland.
Development had their own eager players as hooker Gabriel Hakaraia hacked a loose ball through and winger Tom Symes swooped on it, with the underdogs scoring two phases later.
Wanganui kept basically the same line-up through the game and made cosmetic changes in the positions being most contested – with hooker Cole Baldwin coming on for Roman Tutaha at halftime, as did flanker Kieran Hussey for Hammond, while halfback Lindsay Horrocks played the final quarter for try scorer William Short.
Baldwin scored from a classic rolling maul after Wanganui got to the line from some set moves out wide by winger Simon Dibben and fullback Samu Kubunavanua.
Wanganui’s backs coughed up a bit of ball in the muddy conditions, but first five Zyon Hekenui, who played the full match with Areta Lama being rested with a knee injury, got close to the line before Short finished off.
Second five Troy Brown and the unstoppable Waqanibau broke through from close range to score beside the posts, making Hekenui’s conversion attempts a lot easier.
Caskey was pleased with Waqanibau’s strength and running.
While the young man was still a little raw, Wanganui would be trying to use him on attack wherever possible.
Wanganui will play Hawke’s Bay Development at Cooks Gardens this Saturday with the Wanganui Under-20s taking on NZ Army Academy in the curtain raiser at 12.30pm.
The Development team will play their Taranaki counterparts in Hawera at 1pm.
In other weekend results, the Wanganui Maori team lost to Taranaki Maori 13-5.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle