THE YOUNG Ruapehu seniors have come of age after an inspired effort saw them end the reign of six-time champions Kelso Hunterville 28-7 at Cooks Gardens in the early Saturday afternoon match.
Having made their third straight final against the undefeated Hunterville, while going so close but coming up short in both pool games this season, Ruapehu brought not only their youth but also bitter experience into the game – attacking from the outset with the wind behind them and then refusing to lift the foot off the pedal.
They took a 16-0 lead into halftime and put the match away with two more tries in the final quarter.
After an unbroken championship streak which may never be seen again in Wanganui club rugby, Hunterville could not turn momentum their way or even find enough territory to get out of jail as they have countless times before.
Key injuries, especially to lock Bradley Richmond, combined with Ruapehu pushing the pace, left Hunterville trapped in their own half, trying risky plays to break out.
Ruapehu’s front row was outstanding, as player of day Tawhio Gupwell, captain Gabriel Hakaraia and Mac James Edmonds took turns at the never-ending hit-ups, while out wide big centre Ropata Henare was a handful.
Hunterville were initially hesitant through the backline with their veterans like Scott Parkes struggling for fluidity, but Parkes and his outside backs picked themselves up after halftime, with standout fullback Jordan Stayt highlighting a great game with a try to narrow the gap to 16-7.
But the customary revival didn’t continue as Ruapehu kept bashing and brought on their club veterans in Ian Rowe and Shaun McDonough to steady the nerves.
Buoyed on by their rowdy spectators and the beaming members of their Premier team, Ruapehu found the gap for winger Joseph McLeod to dash away, while Gupwell grabbed the ball from a ruck right at the tryline to twist over for the matchwinner.
For Ruapehu coach Mark Green, who has known most of his squad since they were at primary school, the emotions could not be contained.
“It’s been a long time coming. I’m so proud of these boys.
“They can move up to [playing] Premier now with a medal under their belt.”
Hunterville coach Mark Godfrey said on the day, the better team earned their victory.
“Last year we won 10-8, didn’t deserve to win, but knew how to play finals rugby.
“Today they took it to us, we didn’t have the ball for 30 minutes.
“We knew how to play the game, but they took it out of us.”
Ruapehu made a near perfect start as they attacked the kickoff and earned a penalty from referee Ben Lourie, with halfback Kahl Elers-Green raising the flags, before No8 Kevin McDonnell scored a great team try as hard tackling turned the ball over midfield and flanker George Hinana combined with winger Dion Hooper to sweep them to the line. Richmond and flanker Nathan Bradley scrambled hard on defence, but Hunterville were pinged again as Elers-Green booted the underdogs to an improbable 11-0 advantage.
The roll continued as Hunterville were losing lineout ball at the back without the injured Richmond, as Ruapehu secured a turnover and fed the ball to Hooper who showed strength to get it down in the corner in the tackle of Stayt.
Hunterville gained traction after halftime, missing a penalty, then somehow Stayt collected a high pass above his head but still bumped off his tackler to scoot over near the posts.
Elers-Green also missed a penalty, as Ruapehu’s bench looked concerned about a trademark Hunterville comeback, but they would not be denied as every time Stayt or others would kick for territory, Henare, Gupwell or Edmonds would drive their way back.
McLeod suddenly broke through on a brittle Hunterville blindside and in a flash was over in the corner to send Ruapehu supporters into raptures.
Hunterville were desperate and Ruapehu fullback Shaquille McDonnell grabbed an intercept and made a flick pass to send Ruapehu right back to the line, with Gupwell making history as he stretched over for the matchwinner.
–Ruapehu 28 (Kevin McDonnell, Dion Hooper, Joseph McLeod, Tawhio Gupwell tries, Kahl Elers-Green 2 pen, Hooper con)
Kelson Hunterville 7 (Jordan Stayt try, Hamish Harding con). HT: 16-0.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle