By: Jared Smith
Jared Smith is sports editor of the Whanganui Chronicle
It was a wonderful welcome home for Harvey Round Motors Ratana, who can say, for now, that once again they are undefeated in the Pa after they held on 22-21 against Black Bull Liquor Pirates today.
The first Tasman Tanning Premier game held in the Ratana Pa since July 2017 had a cliff hanger finish, although as a bottom-table clash it often lacked for solid execution as both sides struggled with lost ball, a rising penalty count, and some weak cover tackling.
Ratana took first use of a reasonably strong breeze, running ‘downhill’ on a firm Pa pitch in the first half, to score three tries for a 17-0 lead.
It appears Tāwhirimātea, the Maori god of weather, favoured them on their return home as the wind died off somewhat when Pirates changed ends.
Nonetheless, the 2018 finalists began to regain territory and hold possession, save for a couple of Ratana backline breakouts from their own half, and put on three tries, getting on top of the home side when they were reduced to 14 through the sinbinning of reserve back Che Barlow.
Ratana’s saving grace was a club signature driving maul from a 5m penalty lineout to put reserve forward Corrie Pikimaui over in the far corner for a key 22-14 lead with the clock running down, although Pirates struck back swiftly after a series of penalties for former representative prop Brett Turner to be driven across from a tryline ruck for another seven pointer.
The Pirates forwards would ultimately rue turning the ball over several times at the breakdown, despite the best efforts of their No 8 and skipper Lasa Ulukuta.
Ratana’s standouts were try-scoring centre Western Hemi and determined flanker Dale Akuhata, who had a safe pair of hands in the lineout.
After opting not to take the field at all in his first season of coaching Ratana last year, former Wanganui captain Steelie Koro came on in the final quarter and adding a much-needed alternative attacking option for Ratana with his offloads and kicks.
“The boys are bloody happy to be home,” Koro said afterwards.
“For Ratana itself, you can see it’s a good crowd, and getting the win is a bonus.
“We just needed it as a club.
“A bit of work was put into this field to get it up to scratch.”
While the team, which had good attendance with a solid bench, is not looking to their recent disappointing past, they need to get better control if they’re going to catch out any Premier teams above them on the table.
“[It’s good] if you can still get a win with a hell of a lot of work-on’s,” said Koro.
“Both team’s are in the same boat.”
Meanwhile, it is back to the drawing board for new Pirates coach Danny Tamehana, who is having to do without the usual imported talent that was a hallmark of his predecessor Phillip Morris.
“It was all about rebuilding, I didn’t have the team we’ve had in the past,” Tamehana said.
“It just needs a commitment at this level.”
Pirates used to bring in the big ball-runners that “just mentally destroyed teams”, but now it is more about individual skill sets – which players can’t hone those if only 6-7 of them come to training.
“You can see, a game of two halves today,” Tamehana said.
“If you play for the 80 minutes, the game would have been different.”
After Ratana were in front right from the kickoff and then Pirates spilled the ball from the scrum, the home side scored when the ball finally left the halfway area as first-five Taylor Kirkwood linked up with Hemi, who drew the cover to him and sent winger Waisake Uluikadavu away to cut through some woeful tacking and run back towards the post.
Uluikadavu pulled a leg muscle in his dash and soon had to be replaced.
A series of scrums and penalties soon had Ratana back in position, and after a series of hit ups by the forwards, hooker Klay Pukutone dived low to score, with the wind taking the ball off the tee just as Hemi was swinging his leg for the conversion attempt.
Pirates were not offering much but one-off bursts, although Ratana struggled to turn territory into further points after some handling errors.
Finally, turning the Pirates scrum to get the feed put them in position just before halftime.
After the Ratana backline fumbled the ball behind them, Hemi regathered and looked at his options, before drifting wide and backing himself to squeeze between three defenders and reach out to plant the ball after they dragged him down at the line.
Pirates looked to trap Ratana in their 22m after the break, although they fell off tackles to let the home side spread the ball and run it deep into their half, getting a penalty to set up a drive from the lineout, which Pirates forwards did stop for a turnover.
Ulukuta, backed by flanker Francis Vakadranu and hooker Manulua Lafi, began to make some inroads with their hit ups, while prop Faamanui Pulemagafa was worked into big gaps up the middle.
After lock David Fruean was stopped just short of the goalposts from a tap kick, the ball was freed for Pulemagafa to power through for 17-7.
Barlow’s departure for a late tackle opened up space in the Ratana line and reserve back James Forsythe took a wide pass and stepped back through some poor Ratana defence to outstrip his chasers for a try from halfway, with winger James Anderson adding a good conversion.
Koro came on and took charge of the attack, and after a couple of penalties, Ratana’s pack rumbled Pikimaui over to pull clear again at 22-14.
Pirates weren’t done as Turner scored a quick reply try with Lafi adding another difficult conversion.
They had a lineout and then a scrum inside Ratana’s half to try and force one more scoring play, but another fumble at the back of the ruck saw Ratana’s home town celebrations kick off.
Ratana 22 (W Uluikadavu, K Pukutone, W Hemi, C Pikimaui tries; Hemi con)
bt Pirates 21 (F Pulemagafa, J Forsythe, B Turner tries; J Anderson 2 con, M Lafi con)
Wanganui Rugby – Provisional Scores
Tasman Tanning Premiership
April 27th –
Tasman Tanning premier, round 3 –
At Spriggens Park (Grand Hotel Challenge Shield) –
Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist 35
Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri 15
HT: 15-10 Marist
At Kaierau Country Club –
Waverley Harvesting Border 24
Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau 20
HT: 15-13 Kaierau
At Ratana Pa –
Harvey Round Motors Ratana 22
Black Bull Liquor Pirates 21
HT: 17-0 Ratana
At Rochdale Park, Ohakune –
McCarthy Transport Ruapehu 8
Byford’s Readimix Taihape 5
HT: 5-0 Ruapehu
Points – Ruapehu 14, Marist 12, Kaierau 11, Border 9, Taihape 7, Ngamatapouri, Ratana 5, Pirates 1.
Senior championship, round 4 –
At Spriggens Park –
Marist Celtic 55
Black Bull Liqour Pirates 12
At Kaierau Country Club –
At Marton Park (Stihl Shop Wanganui Challenge Shield) –
Bennett’s Taihape 19
Speirs Food Marton 12
At Hunterville –
Kelso Hunterville 72
At Memorial Park, Taihape –
Utiku OB 29
Marist Buffalo’s 12
Senior points – Celtic, Hunterville 19, Taihape 18, Utiku OB 15, Marton 11, Counties 7, Kaierau 6, Buffalo’s 4, Border, Pirates 0.