ALACK of resources up front left Steelform Wanganui under the pump in the set pieces, but did not daunt their determination in a tough 15-6 win over the Hawke’s Bay Saracens at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.
Scoring three tries while protecting their own tryline throughout, despite several lost lineout balls and multiple tighthead scrums conceded, Wanganui got enough traction out of their pick and drive, with several players fitting into makeshift play-making roles, to score twice late in the game after wearing their bigger opposition down.
This was especially impressive considering a niggling injury toll kept the likes of forwards Bryn Hudson and Brett Turner away, while lock Fraser Hammond was a late withdrawal and captain Peter Rowe switched to the unfamiliar No5 jumper.
Wanganui therefore had less forward depth on the bench, as Ruapehu front rower Karl Parker was a last-minute inclusion and youngster Tawhio Gupwell was thrust into the thick of it against a heavyweight Hawke’s Bay pack which outweighed the local cruiserweights by perhaps 100kg.
It did not allow a platform for Wanganui’s pacy backline to get into a rythm, although new import fullback Trinity Spooner-Neera looked pretty classy with a good try, until he came off with a rolled ankle before halftime.
Centre Poasa Waqanibau also tried to manufacture his own breaks, while first-five Zyon Hekenui was put under a lot of pressure by the Hawke’s Bay defenders and halfback Lindsay Horrocks had a real scrap with his Saracens opposite, Jono Ruru.
No8 Kaleb Sweet made some crunching tackles for the visitors and first-five Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald popped over an early penalty and then another midway through the second half for a 6-5 lead.
But Wanganui, exhorted by Rowe, did not give up, as flanker Daniel Fitzgerald scored from a sustained period of drives, where he took the ball up several times as lock Sam Madams designated himself halfback and reserve No8 Malakai Volau went on up the guts.
After a quiet first half, No8 Renato Tikoilosomone came back on and joined Volau in getting Wanganui some go forward, and then the home side got the match-winner after schoolboy Stephan Perofeta broke through down the blindside and put reserve winger Jaye Flaws over in the corner.
Having come straight from a game for Collegiate, Perofeta was not overawed at fullback, although he narrowly missed both his conversion attempts with Hekenui off the field.
Winger Samu Kubunavanua did not get many attacking opportunities, save the decisive run that led to Spooner-Neera’s try, but defended very well down his sideline as Hawke’s Bay tested him with chip kicks and attacking raids.
The visitors had clear superiority at scrum time, but a ton of dropped ball and risky flick passes, plus catching the ire of referee Gordon Ririnui, would undo most of their promising opportunities.
“You’d think they take a guy off, it would be a smaller guy [replacement], but they kept bringing bigger guys on,” said Rowe, who has no desire to keep the lock jersey. “At times you felt a bit lost out there. It wasn’t a pretty one but you take a bit from it. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves.”
Coach Jason Caskey will probably wait until checking the status of his walking wounded at Tuesday night’s training before announcing the 26-man squad for the Heartland Championship.
He was confident no pack at Heartland level will be the size of Hawke’s Bay, so having lighter engines who are mobile around the field will be more of an advantage. “Really happy with the line speed, shifting play well. To score three tries and hardly win a scrum, they had to work hard.”
Remembering the tribulations of 2013 and early 2014, the team had talked about having pride in their defence and keeping their heads up when things aren’t working, especially when playing at Cooks Gardens, Caskey said.
“They’ve all stuck their hand up.
“Makes it harder for us [to choose], but a good way to be.”
Wanganui 15 (Daniel FitzGerald, Jaye Flaws, Trinity Spooner-Neera tries)
Hawke’s Bay Saracens Development 6 (Tyrone Elkington-MacDonald 2 pen) 6.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle