McCarthy’s Ruapehu’s sixty-five minutes of textbook 10-man rugby to protect their youthful backline was not enough to withstand a final-quarter surge as Waverley Harvesting Border barely escaped Rochfort Park with their Grand Hotel Challenge Shield on Saturday.
Down 14-3 after being camped on their line as Ruapehu’s veteran forwards smashed wave after wave of pick-and-go drives, an outplayed Border pack regrouped and gave their strangled backline enough time to swing across each sideline, powering over for two tries in nine minutes to get out of jail 17-14.
Having ushered in seven new players promoted from last year’s senior team, including the entire backline outside of first-five Zyon Hekenui, Ruapehu relied on their locker-room leaders like props Karl Parker and tryscorer Kim McNaught, alongside seasoned campaigners Andrew Evans and Peter Rowe.
They were aggressive in the cleanout, swiftly ripped back lost ball at the breakdown, and made Border first-five Jack Lupton’s afternoon a misery.
Halfback William Short was also at his niggly best and had the wood on opposite Lindsay Horrocks until late in the second half when he and Evans were subbed.
Ruapehu played their classic territory game throughout the first half – kick for the corners and chase like the devil’s after you – not losing momentum even when second-five Tiroi Brown was sinbinned for a high collar.
Border were flustered by constant dropped ball when they tried to counterattack. It was only after withstanding a mountain of pressure on their line, which yielded Hekenui’s third penalty kick, that the visitors not only managed to slip into fourth gear but ratcheted up into fifth.
First, lock Jack Hodge and prop Kamipeli Latu were barely held up by just Ruapehu arms at the tryline, then flanker Kieran Hussey was denied on his dive.
Fijian newcomer Poasa Waqanibau, for whom coach Ross Williams has high hopes, was threatening to break through and finally cracked the home team with ten minutes left as he dragged two of them over the line for 14-10.
Border then turned Ruapehu’s tactics against them as they hacked a fumbled ball into the far corner where Waqanibau’s final pass to Hughes went forward at the line.
Free from Short, Horrocks was now dictating terms as he fed the ball-runners – winger Nathan Davis putting just half a foot in touch before scoring at the corner flag, while flanker Bobo Ulukuta spilled as he tried to dive through Ruapehu’s cement wall.
Peter Rowe, brother lock Ian Rowe, centre Tau Tahi Rawiri and others were magnificent on defence, but the tide had finally turned as Border reserve Jareth Hawea took one final hitup to force his way under the posts.
Border had to hold off a raid in the dying moments before grabbing a fumble and booting themselves to safety.
In the middle of two bye weeks and having just secured only Border’s second win over Ruapehu since 2011, both in Ohakune, relieved coach Ross Williams didn’t feel they were that lucky.
“A lot of teams would have struggled up here today with that [Ruapehu] pack. We’ve got a fair bit of fitness work to do. It’s not ideal preparation, but we’re two from two.
“Sam Madams played well, Lindsay [Horrocks] as always.”
Still waiting on the return of Premier regulars like George Williams, Owen King and Roman Tutauha, Ruapehu coach Chris Winter was proud his uneven squad of rookies and tireless veterans had done their best and played the better structure for most of the contest.
“It’s not what we want to play, what we train. But with what resources we had today, we had to give it a crack. The old heads stood up. If we want to bring these young fellas through, that has to happen.”
Although in the very rare position of being winless after two games, Winter said the team had been asked to show more heart than in their shock loss to Kaierau in week one, which they did against the more well-rounded Border unit.
McNaught scored the game’s opening try as Ruapehu’s pack mauled hard after capitalising on a fumbled kick to the corner.
With the Rowe’s, Evans and lock Terei Cowan taking the pressure off their backline with surges from the scrums and hard midfield tackling, Ruapehu exploited the flustered Border forwards coming over the top to get Hekenui in position for two quick penalties, before Lupton replied with one for the visitors late in the half.
Waverley Harvesting Border 17 (Poasa Waqanibau, Jareth Hawea tries, Jack Lupton pen, 2 con)
bt McCarthy Transport Ruapehu 14 (Kim McNaught try, Zyon Hekenui 3 pen)
HT: 11-3 Ruapehu.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle