If you want to understand why Saturday’s Tasman Tanning Premier championship game had the second largest winning margin in WRFU finals history, the answer can be found at the aftermatch.
Collecting the trophy following their 41-17 triumph, McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu brought their families and friends around them, after accepting a haka from several of their Ohakune brethren.
Meanwhile, after picking up their own prizes for the season, the members of Black Bull Liquor Pirates just drifted away in dribs and drabs, barely a handful of old school players following the custom of waiting for the victors to hoist the silverware.
It summed up the afternoon in a nutshell; the truely united team won on the day, and won well.
In a departure from the Cooks Gardens thrillers of the past four years, the defending champions Ruapehu showed big match composure and cohesion, playing with structure and supporting each other in key moments.
Meanwhile, Pirates just kept trying to bash their way through in one’s and two’s, playing into the hands of a country side who could match them for physicality, absorb that pressure and then probe their opposition’s weak points on the turnaround.
Unlike seven days before against Waverley Harvesting Border, it was harder to point out dynamic performances.
The retiring veteran No8 Andrew Evans gave an inspiring effort for a deserved man of the match award, while sharp winger Shaquille Waara scored an extremely rare grand final hat trick.
Yet simply, every Ruapehu player did his job as well as covering for the man alongside him after their occasional mistake – it really was just an honest team effort.
Even when still injured centre Craig Clare departed following his sideline conversion of Ruapehu’s opening try in the second half, while captain Roman Tutauha came off not long after with a suspected broken arm, there was no concern in the champion’s camp, although representative coach Jason Caskey will be frowning.
It was everything Ruapehu coach Daisy Alabaster could have asked from his charges in a championship match, minus one rush of blood which led to Pirates scoring their first try right before halftime to keep a bare sniff at 24-10.
“It’s the whole squad [performing],” Alabaster said.
“Forward pack, defence.
“We let them have [that try] before halftime.
“If we’d shut that, it would have been a whole different second half.
“We had to work on defence and wait for the mistake.”
For Pirates, it was now obvious the departure of their leading Samoan players at the expiration of their work visas last month left gaps which could not be filled.
In addition, talented young first-five Desmond Tyrell was immediately backing up after just playing 75 minutes of St Johns Club Wanganui Metro’s outstanding win over Massey White in the Manawatu Colts semifinals.
Although Tyrell had the stamina for another 80, it laid bare Pirates lack of a Plan B, as they also moved barnstorming midfielder Soonalote Tauialoto out to the unfamiliar position of wing, where two big errors led to Waara snatching back-to-back tries in the first quarter, with Ruapehu never looking back.
“Not enough accuracy,” said Pirates coach Phillip Morris.
“Lots of individual stuff, but team moments we just got lost.
“You can’t leak easy points to these guys.
“I’m pleased the boys were in the final.
“It’s no excuse for the four guys that aren’t here, but it may have made a difference.”
Morris singled out double tryscoring centre Vaovasa Afasua, who really stepped up in the third quarter as Pirates tried to drag themselves back into the match, while midfield partner Meki Magele made “a hundred tackles”.
Taking first use of the wind, Ruapehu invited Pirates to try and bash their way out of their own half, with prop Gabriel Hakaraia looking to leave a mark on defence while Tutauha brought down the Pirate King Lasa Ulukuta after he had shrugged out of several tackles.
Overeagerness at the breakdown saw Ruapehu give up a couple of penalties, with Pirates fullback Junior Ainea missing his first long range attempt but getting the second to open accounts after seven minutes.
Ruapehu regained the kickoff and worked their way forward, before a grubber kick towards Tauialoto’s sideline was accidentally fumbled backwards off the knee of the big man and the chasers swooped – getting the turnover on the tryline with Waara going over with the pass off the ruck.
Clare nailed a low sideline conversion, and after Evans made a good run from the kickoff, Ruapehu chipped ahead to the same wing and Waara flew up on Tauialoto to get a charge down and win the race to the ball for a massive momentum swing at 12-3 after 12 minutes.
Unable to get a line break, Pirates could only attempt another long range penalty through Ainea, which was away, with Ruapehu happy to make tackles and then clear the ball up centre field.
The pressure was building as one Tyrell free kick clearance went out very shallow and then Magele lost the ball on the hitup from the lineout.
Ruapehu worked forward as the pack drove over the tryline, but after being held up they simply reset from the scrum win and had another go, with prop Te Uhi Hakaraia burrowing his way under the posts in the 34th minute.
Pirates were falling apart as one of the front rowers tried a wild cut out pass in their own 22m that missed winger Elijah Ah Chong as Clare, despite his limp, was able to run through and score, leaving defenders on their knees in anguish.
However, they got a glimpse of hope just before the break when Clare looked to spread from another clearance, and fullback George Williams had his kick charged, with Afasua showing great control to get the bounce on the dive and score.
Ruapehu got those seven points back after the break as flanker Jamie Hughes ran from a midfield turnover and put down an excellent grubber kick, with Waara blitzing through to score in the corner.
Pirates lifted to their final stand, as following Tutauha coming off they slowly worked their way down field with one-off bursts- Afasua and Ulukuta leading the way with runs and offloads.
Getting a penalty 5m out, Afasua took a quick tap and ducked his way through, diving over the last defender for a gutsy try with 20 minutes left.
But again Hughes responded, as from a ruck on the 40m he fended his way through tired tacklers, transferring the ball to each hand, and fed Waara, who this time turned the ball back inside for flanker Jack Kinder to sprint away for the try of the match.
Pirates had no more shots left to fire, as Ruapehu emptied their bench and slowly ground their way back down to the tryline, to see first-five Josh Fifita repeat his semifinal effort by taking the pass off the ruck and sprinting low for the try to wrap up the season with only a few minutes left.
Ruapehu 41 (Shaquille Waara 3, Te Uhi Hakaraia, Craig Clare, Jack Kinder, Josh Fifita tries; Clare 3 con) bt Pirates 17 (Vaovasa Afasua 2 tries; Desmond Tyrell 2 con, Junior Ainea pen). HT: 24-10.