A 17-point scoring burst on the back of a half dozen penalties inside the last ten minutes was a painful lesson for Steelform Wanganui that they cannot take any game lightly after a 34-19 loss to Hawke’s Bay Saracens on Saturday.
The match, which was moved to Spriggens Park after the Rangitikei District Council closed Marton Park due to weather conditions, was the first Wanganui loss in an August preseason game, outside of Ranfurly Shield challenges, in several years.
It was also the first defeat to the Saracens in four games, with the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union investing seriously in their development programme this year and bringing a much stronger squad over from Napier.
Trailing 19-5 coming into halftime, the Saracens turned up the aggression levels in the second stanza, both on the ball and off, as Wanganui were put under pressure and lost their momentum, getting hammered in the tackles and eventually being forced to do all of the defending as the visitors switched up a gear, while still getting chances to recuperate due to the stop-start nature of the half.
Wanganui had focused on strengthening their set piece areas which needed work, such as the lineout where hooker Dylan Gallien started the match and lock Sam Madams was able to contest the visitor’s throws – which unfortunately led to a huge error in the first half when a Madams’ bat down of Saracens ball was snatched up by opposing flanker Tomo Fogarty to score an easy try.
But it was up the guts where the Saracens looked to intimidate Wanganui, with lock Lui Laumanu provoking them with his hands and elbows, including one second half jersey-pulling incident which erupted into punches.
Laumanu was subbed not long after but by then his job was done, as powerful reserve back Fa’alemiga Selesele had come on at halftime and was busting up Wanganui’s defensive patterns.
The home side still had control, barely, with a 19-17 advantage and field position with the wind behind them.
But the breakdown had become a mess and referee Rebecca Mahony, a former Black Fern who was one of the first two women named in the NZRFU’s High Performance referee squad, began to target Wanganui’s ill discipline and bad timing when chasing tackle-ball.
Holding in, coming from offside, and kicking the ball free from the halfback’s hands were violations that could not be forgiven.
Already running hot, the Saracens were gifted added field position and first-five Tianua Poto finally opted for a three-pointer from in front to take the lead in the 70th minute.
And then the dam broke, as second-five Kalin Paewai scored untouched in the right hand corner, with Wanganui letting him run back to near the posts for an easier conversion, and then the nuggety midfielder was through again on the left hand side, linking with reserve Ted Walters to put halfback Johnny Ika in space and beat the last defender to go under the sticks.