Match Report : Steelform Wanganui vs HB Saracens {18-08-18}

Wanganui first-five Dane Whale cannot breach the Hawke's Bay Saracens defence at Spriggens Park on Saturday.
Wanganui first-five Dane Whale cannot breach the Hawke’s Bay Saracens defence at Spriggens Park on Saturday.

A 17-point scoring burst on the back of a half dozen penalties inside the last ten minutes was a painful lesson for Steelform Wanganui that they cannot take any game lightly after a 34-19 loss to Hawke’s Bay Saracens on Saturday.

The match, which was moved to Spriggens Park after the Rangitikei District Council closed Marton Park due to weather conditions, was the first Wanganui loss in an August preseason game, outside of Ranfurly Shield challenges, in several years.

It was also the first defeat to the Saracens in four games, with the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union investing seriously in their development programme this year and bringing a much stronger squad over from Napier.

Trailing 19-5 coming into halftime, the Saracens turned up the aggression levels in the second stanza, both on the ball and off, as Wanganui were put under pressure and lost their momentum, getting hammered in the tackles and eventually being forced to do all of the defending as the visitors switched up a gear, while still getting chances to recuperate due to the stop-start nature of the half.

Wanganui had focused on strengthening their set piece areas which needed work, such as the lineout where hooker Dylan Gallien started the match and lock Sam Madams was able to contest the visitor’s throws – which unfortunately led to a huge error in the first half when a Madams’ bat down of Saracens ball was snatched up by opposing flanker Tomo Fogarty to score an easy try.

But it was up the guts where the Saracens looked to intimidate Wanganui, with lock Lui Laumanu provoking them with his hands and elbows, including one second half jersey-pulling incident which erupted into punches.

Laumanu was subbed not long after but by then his job was done, as powerful reserve back Fa’alemiga Selesele had come on at halftime and was busting up Wanganui’s defensive patterns.

The home side still had control, barely, with a 19-17 advantage and field position with the wind behind them.

But the breakdown had become a mess and referee Rebecca Mahony, a former Black Fern who was one of the first two women named in the NZRFU’s High Performance referee squad, began to target Wanganui’s ill discipline and bad timing when chasing tackle-ball.

Holding in, coming from offside, and kicking the ball free from the halfback’s hands were violations that could not be forgiven.

Already running hot, the Saracens were gifted added field position and first-five Tianua Poto finally opted for a three-pointer from in front to take the lead in the 70th minute.

And then the dam broke, as second-five Kalin Paewai scored untouched in the right hand corner, with Wanganui letting him run back to near the posts for an easier conversion, and then the nuggety midfielder was through again on the left hand side, linking with reserve Ted Walters to put halfback Johnny Ika in space and beat the last defender to go under the sticks.

Fullback Craig Clare's pass can't quite clear the defenders.
Fullback Craig Clare’s pass can’t quite clear the defenders.

“Just got to sort out our discipline, that’s the difference,” said Wanganui captain Campbell Hart.

“They came out firing that second half and we didn’t match it.

“Can’t give them 20m all the time.”

Assistant coach Jason Hamlin agreed, feeling it was better to get the kick in the backside now than in seven days in the Mitre 10 Heartland opener Championship opener against rivals South Canterbury.

“All those penalties gave it away, then they weren’t able to build anything out of it.

“It’s a lesson for us about level heads and keeping minds on the job.

“We needed to be put under pressure and we didn’t respond as well as we would have liked.”

Wanganui gave away plenty of first half penalties as well, but so did the Saracens, and Wanganui’s playmakers in fullback Craig Clare, halfback Lindsay Horrocks and first-five Dane Whale had a pretty good direction of the action.

But by the second half it was clear something was no longer gelling, and Hawke’s Bay could sense it, letting out war whoops with every blow of the whistle.

Wanganui’s first try was excellent execution as a Madam’s pop pass to Horrocks saw the halfback hit the gap and link up with Whale, who fed centre Kavenui Dabenaise, who despite being hit by the last two defenders still managed a perfect offload for Gallien to score.

Fogarty’s 20th minute try exposed Wanganui’s lack of lineout security and set them back a bit, but they replied promptly after getting a couple of penalties of their own, and Whale spotted the outside defenders rushing up so stepped off both feet to reach out and score near the posts.

Wanganui saw the rushing as a Saracens weak point and five minutes later, Whale put down a grubber kick from a 10m ruck and Clare just had to hold up to get the bounce for 19-5.

The warning signs should have been there with how much of a piggy-back each side could get off penalties when Saracens scored against the run of play five minutes before the break, after got a free kick for a lineout with centre Neria Fomai then running straight through and clearing the last diving tackle of winger Harry Symes to close the gap to 19-12.

Buoyed, Saracens began the second half with greater intensity as they snatched a Horrocks attempt to chip kick, and then Selesele hit a gap and fed winger Saia Paese to score after just three minutes.

The Saracens kept up their aggression on attack and defence, but with the wind advantage, Wanganui should have run them out of territory and time, until frustration and tiredness led to bad decisions in the last 12 minutes.

Hawke’s Bay Saracens 34 (T Fogarty, N Fomai, S Paese, K Paewai, J Ika tries; T Poto pen, 3 con)
bt Wanganui 19 (D Gallien, D Whale, C Clare tries; Clare 2 con). HT: 19-12 Wanganui.

Wanganui Chronicle By:  Jared Smith