There was one word that summed up Waverley Harvesting Border’s day at Dallison Park for players, coaches and supporters alike – “finally”.
Not only did “finally” mean the team had qualified for Tasman Tanning Premier’s championship match, but also Saturday’s 34-13 triumph ends McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu’s mortgage on grand final appearances. It was the first time they had been beaten in Border’s backyard since the South Taranaki team returned to Wanganui rugby in 2011.
Border had also “finally” done themselves justice in a semifinal match – playing their style of game and preventing Ruapehu from dictating terms. Running upright with ball in one hand, Border’s midfield combination of Poasa Waqanibau and Renato Tikoilosomone were the game breakers, joined often by halfback Lindsay Horrocks, along with Fraser Middleton running determinedly from fullback.
Ruapehu surprisingly dropped off several first-up tackles in the crucial stages around the second quarter and then 15 minutes into the second half, letting Border first get momentum when there was seemingly nothing on and then capitalise at the tryline, as Waqanibau would pirouette his way over for a hat-trick.
The battle up front saw momentum shift throughout as Ruapehu and Border’s packs would each screw the other’s scrums, although the visitors were left to rue several lineout throws that did not go straight, while prop Karl Parker ended up with two yellow cards for punching.
One only had to look into the eyes of Border’s veterans like hooker Cole Baldwin, No8 Ray Stark and lock Sam Madams, who delivered an expletive to his own coaches when they tried to sub him, to see how badly they wanted it.
For the visitors, winger Te Maire Hawira was outstanding as Ruapehu initially had success using him as inside ball runner, while flanker Jackson Campbell toiled away and hooker Roman Tutaha was a force throughout.
Border did what has often proved beyond them and put Ruapehu away inside the dying minutes. The visitors made some uncharacteristic midfield fumbles, before the season’s joint-MVP winner Kieran Hussey took a brilliant flick pass from Horrocks after a screwed Ruapehu scrum and smashed through three tacklers to score in the corner.
The home side enjoyed plenty of vocal support around the ground, but especially at the Chester St corner, where well-lubricated voices chanted from the clubroom balcony.
“We didn’t get off to a great start,” said Border coach Ross Williams of the half-dozen penalties they conceded in the opening 10 minutes.
“Super proud of the way we fought back and played some good rugby through the middle of the game.
“I think we got a couple of nice passes away, more than anything. And stuck at it.”
His opposite Chris Winter was gracious in defeat.
“Pretty much, they were better than us today – defensively and on attack.
“We didn’t hold the ball, here and there, to hold that pressure.
“I’m still proud of our boys, to come from the bottom of the table.”
Working forward off referee Gordon Ririnui’s whistle, Ruapehu struck first as first-five Zyon Hekenui made a lovely delay pass to put second-five Troy Brown in the gap. Having pulled Border’s backs in, they swung left, with fullback George Williams sending winger Cory Carmichael away as Middleton was the only defender to guess the caper, but too late.
Yet Border showed this would be a different kind of day as winger Tom Symes sprinted from the line to charge down Hekenui’s conversion attempt.
Ruapehu tried a similar set move and this time Border read it as Waqanibau swamped Williams, getting the turnover and working into Ruapehu’s territory for a successful penalty opportunity by flanker Bobo Ulukuta.
Waqanibau and Hussey combined for another raid as first-five James Forsythe just put a foot in touch when diving at the corner flag. But Border had now clicked into gear, as Horrocks eased through a half gap and at the breakdown the ball was freed to Waqanibau, who bulldozed through Williams to score.
Losing Parker for 10 minutes proved costly as Border were soon back at the line – Tikoilosomone palming the ball and jinking sideways through a tackle to cross beside the posts.
Baldwin and Ruapehu flanker Peter Rowe traded big hits, and then Border spread wide for Waqanibau to get outside his markers and sprint back to the posts to send the clubhouse into a frenzy at 22-5.
Ruapehu attacked right from the halftime kickoff and set Hekenui up for a successful penalty, but this time Border did not falter as they continued to pirouette through the initial tacklers to get themselves back to the tryline, with Waqanibau going over for his hat-trick off a 5m scrum.
Ruapehu looked rattled, as reliable players made key dropped ball and forward passes in the midfield, but they collected themselves to score a textbook try when Rowe, Parker and prop Kim McNaught linked for a long drive from the lineout for McNaught to force the ball, 29-13.
Chastising themselves, Border’s forwards demanded more effort, and they stopped Ruapehu’s remaining raids, before Horrocks pounced on a loose scrum ball to feed the reliable Hussey, who dashed away for the matchwinner.
Border 34 (Poasa Waqanibau 3, Renato Tikoilosomone, Kieran Hussey tries, Bobo Ulukuta pen, 3 con) bt McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu 13 (Cory Carmichael, Kim McNaught tries, Zyon Hekenui pen). HT: 22-5.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle