Taihape vs Ruapehu – Match report

By Jared Smith

It is clear at the end of the first round of 2020 Tasman Tanning Premier games that there are now two distinct three-horse races underway.

Both Byford’s Readmix Taihape and McCarthy Transport Ruapehu took a key stride in each race at Rochfort Park on Saturday, as Taihape registered an impressive 10th consecutive road win with their 45-24 victory in the hunt to finish the round robin top of the table.

However, the winless home side must not lose sight of the fact other than a key period either side of halftime when they played with 14 men and gave up three rapid tries, Ruapehu hung in there with the defending champions and scored more points against them than any opponent this year.

Ruapehu’s bonus point keeps the mathematical equation alive that if they can secure more against the other teams in the Top 3, while beating their fellow 2020 minnows in the second round, they could claim fourth spot and maintain a streak of semifinal appearances stretching back to the early 2010’s.

Ruapehu got dragged into a game of force back in the first quarter by Taihape’s experienced heads like Dane Whale – who had an excellent day with the boot in general play and from the tee (5-6) – while the other leaders like double try-scoring hooker Dylan Gallien and fellow try collector Matt Brown knew how to follow up busts and brush the white line from close range.

Winger Ryan Karatau continues to make promising strides, scoring for the fourth game in a row, while aggressive young flanker Ollie Rhodes really impressed – smashing his way through on a 35m runaway under the posts.

Ruapehu actually had the better of territory in the first quarter by running back into Taihape’s 22m, but after their experienced players had made initial inroads, including trapping Taihape ball or blowing over for turnovers, possession was invariably lost on the third and fourth phases by their young rookies.

However, from 40-5 down, those same rookies lifted their game, as Ruapehu took advantage of a series of penalties to tap and go – with diminutive but zippy winger Takarangi Metekingi dotting down twice in opposite corners, while acting first-five Kahl Elers-Green shrugged off defenders close to the line for his own double.

Like Metekingi, fullback Logan Blackburn is small and young, but one cannot doubt his determination, while the veteran forwards like flanker Jamie Hughes and lock No8 Campbell Hart will keep trying to cover the workload of three men.

“That middle 40, we just didn’t play rugby, we were content to kick it back to them,” said coach Kim McNaught.

“When you got guys like Dane and Tyler [Rogers-Holden] running that show, they’re pretty classy, we’ll have to regroup.

“I wasn’t planning on struggling through the first round, but we are. This game gives us something to build on, we just lack a bit of belief.

“We showed that last 20, when we believe we can do it. We just leaked those four easy tries – bang, bang.”

Taihape coach Tom Wells was very pleased with the execution through the first 50 minutes, but will want to look at why the rub of the whistle went against his side in the last quarter.

“We probably played 20 minutes of rugby out of the 80, and that’s no disrespect to Rua.

“Ten minutes after halftime, we probably won’t play any better rugby than that this year, but we got penalized at ruck time quite a bit, rightly or wrongly, killed our momentum.”

Wells complimented Rhodes for standing out amongst a group of forwards who are all in form.

“He came on and did well, we got a pretty strong pack, obviously there’s a lot of competition – so guys who don’t step up probably won’t be there.”

With the semifinal race well and truly on, Wells had a warning for all teams coming to Rochfort Park for the rest of the season.

“Anyone that thinks they’re going to get a bonus point win against these fellas is kidding themselves.

“They’ll only get stronger, as they always do.

“They’re only missing a couple of players and if they turn up, they’ll tip some teams up.”

A high tackle on a flying Karatau let Taihape keep early pressure on with a penalty, and from the corner lineout, No8 Tremaine Gilbert took his team to the line, before Whale transferred back to the blindside for Gallien to show great control to hold off two tacklers and plant the ball on the paint.

After a long kicking duel and some Ruapehu fumbles they would regret on attack, Brown made a deft lineout steal and Whale attacked a flat-footed backline, finding Rogers-Holden back inside to outstrip the cover for a 50m try.

Ruapehu needed to keep morale up, and a Blackburn kick-chase trapped Taihape in the 15m, setting up a series of forward drives before the ball was fired wide and Metekingi took advantage of the overlap to dive straight beside the corner flag.

The home side could have lived with 14-5 at halftime, however Taihape claimed the kickoff and made a series of strong carries, while an attempted Ruapehu clearance at their tryline just went straight up in the air.

Halfback Tuhirangi Akapita wanted rights to the ball but instead got a yellow card, with Taihape setting the scrum and a patient Rogers-Holden waited until the perfect moment to dash off the back and cross untouched.

Taihape kept exploiting their overlap following the break as they worked sideline to sideline until Ruapehu were stretched and Rogers-Holden fired the cut-out pass for Karatau to run in untouched.

A big Shanks run set up another chance and although Whale had to scramble to recover a loose ball, he still found the man he wanted – Gallien – again marauding down the blindside to score.

Taihape were threatening a cricket score when Rhodes just ripped the ball of Ruapehu in the midfield and fended out of tackles to dash under the posts for 40-5.

Blackburn ending another kicking duel with a strong run back led to two Ruapehu penalties in quick succession, with Hughes tapping the second and feeding Trow to drag two tacklers over beside the posts.

This time, Ruapehu absorbed the pressure at the kickoff and another penalty opportunity in Taihape’s dangerzone saw second-five Troy Brown tap for Kahl Elers-Green , whose cut out pass let Metekingi again fly low to the corner flag.

Eager not to give up a bonus point, Taihape trapped Ruapehu in their 22m, where a not-straight lineout throw proved costly, and after reserve flanker Lennox Shanks was driven just short of the line, Brown only had to pick it up and place it forward on the paint with six minutes remaining.

But Ruapehu weren’t done, as after they snuffed out Taihape’s cross kick, two more tap penalties opened up a chance for Kahl Elers-Green to link with Blackburn, who despite being smashed into touch somehow offloaded back inside for Trow to fend away and score the crucial bonus point.

Taihape 45 (D Gallien 2, T Rogers-Holden 2, R Karatau, O Rhodes, M Brown tries; D Whale 5 con) bt Ruapehu 24 (T Metekingi 2, Kahl Elers-Green 2 tries; T Akapita con, L Blackburn con). HT: 21-5.