It was the best beginning to the 2016 Mitre 10 Heartland Championship season, a fine victory on the occassion of Steelform Wanganui’s 100th Heartland match, the proper way to snap a recent losing streak to their opposition and a fitting gift for the 75th game for one of the team’s most loyal servants.
Wanganui displayed all the confidence of a settled outfit determined to defend their Meads Cup and hardened from a solid preseason by scoring 10 tries to one in the 74-6 mauling of a hapless West Coast at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.
As the skies cleared thanks to the howling gale which blew away the early morning rain clouds, coach Jason Caskey and captain Peter Rowe had supreme confidence their side could handle the hard work of facing the wind and the low afternoon sun in the first half – even though they were risking giving the visitors the big territory kicking advantage if they lost possession.
This happened midway through the stanza, undoing a lot of the good work the home side had displayed in keeping the ball in hand and working patiently forward, when West Coast halfback Trent Reti went blindside to dive league-style and plant the ball at the corner post.
It became very clear the new six point tries and two points for all kicks will remove the concept of chipping away at scorelines with penalty attempts, because during West Coast’s brief ascendancy and then Wanganui’s complete domination, both sides chose the attacking scrum or lineout option.
Wanganui shifted up a gear to score three tries before halftime, the second of which being a 70m stunner by winger Michael Nabuliwaqa from a brilliant set move off the scrum by No8 Malakai Volou and second-five Kameli Kuruyabaki, who had excellent games.
Nabuilwaqa shook off his scratchy start to bring lethal execution to bear with a hat trick of tries, while fullback Te Rangatira Waitokia could be forgiven for thinking Heartland rugby is a breeze as he took long passes from halfback Lindsay Horrocks to cross for a double with barely a finger laid on him.
Video: Steelform Wanganui scored 74-6 to hammer West Coast. A perfect start to the Heartland season.
CLICK HERE -> Rugby: SteelformWanganui vs West Coast
Whanganui High School goal defence Kahu Sturmey gets the ball away at the lower North Island secondary schools netball tournament at Laird Park yesterday. Photo/ Bevan Conley
Mixed start for school netball sides
Oval Superstars Tour to debut in Whanganui
Turning to face the wind, an outmatched West Coast just fell apart, dropping off tackles and making unforced errors which Wanganui were more than happy to turn into points.
First-five Dane Whale had been a little wayward with recent goal kicking, not helped by three first half misses into the daunting wind, but when the teams swapped sides he became immaculate with seven straight conversions – including a couple of beauties from near the sideline.
Wanganui’s big forward pack earned their post match drink with three barge over tries from penalty lineouts – holding their structure and stream rolling through the Coasters to put hooker Roman Tutauha, his replacement Cole Baldwin, and the returning Bryn Hudson over the chalk.
The pack also picked off their share of West Coast scrums and lineouts.
It all made West Coast’s back-to-back victories over Wanganui in 2013-14 a very distant memory.
After winning the toss, captain Peter Rowe said it was not a hard decision to go against the breeze and ask his team to put in the work.
“It’s always good playing into the wind, the ball comes to you more.
“In that first half, they brought it to us. We made a lot of the play.”
Rowe was happy to see practice made perfect with Nabuliwaqa’s first try.
“We’ve been making breaks but not finishing off. To then see them come off [like that], it’s pleasing.”
The skipper was also glad to make a gift of the big win to veteran utility back Ace Malo, who came off the bench for his 75th game.
Both Rowe and Caskey confirmed the penalty kick is likely to move down the priority list this season, a belief reinforced as the scorelines from other Heartland games began to filter through.
“What’s the point? You have to kick four penalties to match one converted try,” Rowe said.
Caskey noted this was two games in a row, counting the Waiarapa Bush preseason match, that neither team tried a 2-pointer.
“Penalties in this competition are going to be like a drop goal in league – only done to finish a game off, or to extend you out to a ten point lead.”
He was also pleased with the good start, as the side handled the early pressure before running away with the match.
“We had to wear them down a bit.
“We should have been more in front – too rushed with what we were doing.”
After Reti’s big dive in the corner in the 18th minute, Wanganui hit back when a beautiful Waitokia offload to winger Simon Dibben put him away, feeding Horrocks inside, and although Wanganui were tackled short of the line, the ball was freed for Volou to lock the scores up.
A snifty switch play on their 22m put Nabuliwaqa through midfield, and he linked with centre Craig Clare, who popped the ball back to his winger to drag three tacklers over for what had to be the Try of the Round.
Wanganui kept it up right on halftime as the forwards drove Tutauha over off a lineout take by lock Sam Madams.
West Coast’s defence vanished to start the second half as lock Gavin Thornbury and prop Viki Tofa made big yards, and following a lineout Nabuliwaqa stuck to Kuruyabaki like a farmer’s favourite sheep dog to take the inside pass and dive over.
Waitokia scored in stereo as Wanganui twice hit the line off West Coast fumbles and when the defence was stretched the ball was just flicked out to the unmarked fullback, while Whale now had the ball on a string with conversions from each touchline.
The Border boys got together as Horrocks pinched a West Coast scrum feed, then from the tryline ruck he darted out and put Thornbury inside him to dive over.
The bench came on to keep the tempo as Cameron Crowley bumped off his man and put Nabuliwaqa on the outside track to fend off the chasers and score, and then Baldwin collected Thornbury’s lineout take to be driven over the line.
Wanganui’s forwards found that so nice they did it twice – this time with Hudson scoring in his comeback match right on fulltime.
Wanganui 74 (Michael Nabuliwaqa 3, Te Rangatira Waitokia 2, Malakai Volou, Roman Tutauha, Gavin Thornbury, Cole Baldwin, Bryn Hudson tries; Dane Whale 7 con)
bt West Coast 6 (Trent Reti try)
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle