Steelform Wanganui moved to the top of the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship standings but even with a 53-0 smashing of Poverty Bay in Gisborne there is room for improvement following Saturday’s big win.
Wanganui have carefully negotiated this awkward period of the competition where they had to play back-to-back road games, although with key matches on the horizon against Mid Canterbury and the emerging King Country, assistant coach Jason Hamlin said they are still looking for that perfect performance.
“We did a lot of really good things. [But] execution let us down.
“I’m not trying to put the boot in. We’ve got to be doing those at the end of the year.
“They’re trying stuff, just not quite clicking.
“The defence went very, very well.”
After losing captain Campbell Hart before kickoff the previous weekend and having to go a player short, this week Wanganui took precautions while their star winger Cameron Crowley was expecting the arrival of a new baby with his partner, already planning to travel there and back on the Saturday.
Reserve back Ethan Robinson flew with the team to Gisborne as an unofficial 23rd man, so when Crowley’s partner went into labour overnight on Friday, Robinson officially joined the bench with Tyler Rogers-Holden stretching his versatility to take over the winger’s berth.
Taking an extra player for long away games where it is impossible to fly in someone at short notice could become a regular fixture, as both Wanganui and Horowhenua-Kapiti had to make do last weekend after a travelling squad member pulled out, with infection and illness respectively.
“With what eventuated, we would just leave ourselves short again,” said Hamlin.
Eager to take his chance, Rogers-Holden had an excellent match, scoring two tries.
“He actually finished the game at first five-eighth. Everyone got a good run,” said Hamlin.
After having to defend for the first five minutes, Wanganui turned it on when they got their hands on the ball to race out to a 17-0 advantage, which became 28-0 at a point a minute and then 36-0 by halftime.
The discipline was excellent, as Wanganui did not concede a penalty until the 35th minute.
They immediately made changes at the break as flanker Angus Middleton was replaced due to a calf injury, while second-five Penijamini Nabainivalu was saved, coming off five minutes after the resumption so Kameli Kuruyabaki could get a decent run.
Veteran fullback Craig Clare and first-five Dane Whale both scored for the second week in a row before they were replaced, with Clare picking up an achilles issue late in the game, although Hamlin said it was just precautionary.
Although the third quarter was scrappy, the attack eventually clicked back into gear.
Rogers-Holden set up a nice try when he moved into his preferred first-five position, as Wanganui finished strongly with a couple of tries to reach the half century.
Midfielders Kuruyabaki and Kaveni Dabenaise got on the tryscorers sheet, as did replacement fullback Shandon Scott and winger Harry Symes for both of their first Heartland five-pointers.
Hamlin said they wanted to “release” the lightning pace that Symes and the others have out wide, but getting them quality ball in space was still a work in progress, although it was the backs who scored all eight tries.
It was the coaching staff’s opportunity to see Auckland loose forward Michael Tafili come off the bench and the 25-year-old looked good.
“He did a couple of really nice things, a few good lines and defended strongly,” said Hamlin.
“It was everything we wanted out of him.”
Wanganui have always benefited from balance in their loose forward trio by having two mobile ball scourgers and defenders like a Middleton, Hart or Jamie Hughes, then being backed up by a tank-like ball runner.
Hamlin is hoping Tafili will fit the role along with a returning Bryn Hudson, who played for the Wanganui Toyota Development XV on Saturday.
The assistant coach was also pleased with the young starting front row of Wiremu Cottrell, Jack Yarrall and Gabriel Hakaraia.
“[They played] very well, they scrumaged well.
“They’re putting a bit of pressure on those scrums, we had a good platform to work off.”
Hart said he knew they would be fine when Wanganui won a tighthead with the third or fourth scrum.
Fully recovered from his knee infection, the skipper was pleased with the full squad’s hard work.
“Very happy. Can’t argue with a zero scoreline, the defence is massive.
“We finally got some of the stuff we were working on all year, which is good.
“There’s a few little work-on’s, we’re not the finished product yet.”
Wanganui 53 (Tyler Rogers-Holden 2, Kaveni Dabenaise, Harry Symes, Dane Whale, Craig Clare, Kameli Kuruyabaki, Shandon Scott tries; Clare pen, 4 con, Scott con)
bt Poverty Bay 0
By: Jared Smith