It was a fine day and that artificial Memorial Park turf in Masterton always welcomes running rugby as Steelform Wanganui turned it on in the second half to run out 61-14 winners over Wairarapa Bush in Saturday’s preseason game.
Coach Jason Caskey went with a noticeably younger lineup, based around a few remaining key veterans in the starting XV, and by-and-large they did their jobs well on the fast running track, scoring four of their nine tries inside the final quarter to blow the scoreline out after the weight of possession told on the home side.
“You’re going to score some points here, but also you got to defend,” said Caskey.
“We could have scored a few more points in the first half.
“Line breaks, but just pushing passes or turning over possession on the 50-50’s.
“Still a bit to work on.”
Talented utility back Tyler Rogers-Holden was tried out at fullback after a season in the first line for his Waverley Harvesting Border club, and opened the scoring in the fifth minute, before getting his double on the half hour mark – both of them from good support play.
“He turned up in the right places at the right times,” said Caskey.
Hooker Dylan Gallien, who played the first hour of the match before handing over to Jack Yarrall in a reversal of the Ranfurly Shield game, also scored four minutes before the break to highlight a solid performance.
“He was pretty accurate with his lineout throw, put his hand up for sure.”
Making his return from injury and starting at first-five with last weekend’s captain Dane Whale on the bench, Craig Clare kicked four from five conversions and scored a try in the 50th minute, before coming off with 15 minutes to go after tweaking his calf muscle, as the Wanganui coaching staff are taking no chances of over-doing it with the former professional.
One of the players left out of the Shield game, Kaveni Dabenaise started a centre to partner Kameli Kuruyabaki, and scored only three minutes after Clare.
The home side hit back with a converted try not long after for 33-7, but then Wanganui used their bench depth and cut loose.
Whale came on to get a try, as did speedy winger Harry Symes, whose brother Tom Symes joined the wider squad and started the match, although not much play came out his way.
While brother Ethan was rested, reserve loose forward Cade Robinson had come on for a 20-plus minute stint in his first rugby for some time, scoring in the 72nd minute, while Angus Middleton got the converted openside flanker berth with Jamie Hughes being rested and added his name to the score sheet.
After a couple of misses in Hawera, Shandon Scott regained his goal kicking form with four from four conversion attempts.
Wairarapa Bush replied in the final minute with a 50m intercept try after Wanganui tried a set move from an attacking scrum, which is the second intercept seven-pointer they’ve given away in two games.
As well as Tom Symes joining the side, there was another familiar face back in the frame as 2017 Heartland Player of the Year nominee Bryn Hudson, initially left out of the squad named in mid-July, made his comeback as reserve loose forward, doing a 30 minute stint.
“It’s a work in progress. It’s going to take a few weeks before he’s back to where he should be,” said Caskey.
With Whale not starting, blindside flanker Campbell Hart got the nod to captain the team, with the coach saying the big man “made a good fist of it”.
Wanganui will not face Wairarapa Bush in pool play and it seems unlikely the sides will meet in any playoffs this year unless there is a significant upturn for the Masterton men.
The home union, who have made plans not to use loan players after 2019, were to be boosted by Wellington-based second-five Michael Lealeva’a and the Tufuga brothers in the forwards – No8 Kirk and prop Max.
However, after losing to NZ Army on Tuesday night, Caskey said Wairarapa Bush also lost their captain to a ruptured achilles at Thursday training, adding to their current concerns.
“I’m not sure what they’ve got coming [for players].”
Wanganui’s last preseason hit out will be against Hawke’s Bay Saracens, who also hammered Wairarapa Bush 57-14 at Queen’s Birthday Weekend, with the game at Marton Park on Saturday.
Wanganui 61 (T Rogers-Holden 2, D Gallien, C Clare, K Dabenaise, D Whale, H Symes, C Robinson, A Middleton tries; Clare 4 con, S Scott 4 con)
bt Wairarapa Bush 14 (Two tries; Two conversions)