Border vs Taihape: The encore performance.
Can I get a encore? Do you want more? (More, more, more)
I’ve become so numb
So for one last time I need y’all to roar
One last time I need y’all to roar
- Numb/Encore (Jay Z & Linkin Park)
By Jared Smith
We can say this confidently after viewing 180 minutes of evidence; Waverley Harvesting Border and Byfords Readmix Taihape don’t know how to play a flat grand final.
The Tasman Tanning Premier season will finally culminate at Cooks Gardens on Saturday after months of Covid-19 delays were followed by 11 weeks of action – giving us table leaders Border facing off again with defending champions Taihape.
It is the first grand final rematch since the 2013-14 seasons when McCarthy Transport Ruapehu and Black Bull Liquor Pirates traded title wins at Spriggens Park.
The following year, WRFU Finals day was moved to Cooks Gardens and all but one Premier playoff since that time has been a classic match, with the two Taihape vs Border clashes especially spicy.
It is Border’s fifth grand final in six seasons and their chance to rewrite the history books from last year’s 31-26 loss in extra time, while Taihape, in their third final in five years, will again embrace the slight underdog role.
“We probably are where we thought we were going to be at the start of the season,” said Taihape coach Tom Wells, who as part of a club with traditionally smaller squads, has always emphasised timing a season right, rather than trying to dominate every fixture.
“No disrespect to Kaierau, but we thought this was the game played at Cooks – us and them.
“Playing these guys, there’s always extra there for us in motivation.”
Just as in 2019, Border have beaten Taihape in both regular season matches, but no-team turns up on the big day like the men in red.
“Last year it was [losses] by a point and then plenty, this year was a point and not quite plenty,” said Wells.
“Finals is so different to all regular season rugby.
“No-one is going to miss this weekend, adrenaline takes over any little niggles.
“Their coach made it clear it’s a team with a really good plan [needed] to tip them up.”
Ironically, both coaches met on the field as players in the first Border vs Taihape final in 2016, with Cole Baldwin the winning hooker in that 17-16 thriller.
Taking over as head coach this season, Baldwin changed the training regime for the Waverley club from Tuesday-Thursday sessions to an extended Wednesday hit-out, looking to manage the player’s fitness and motivation.
Even in grand final week, he resisted the urge to do extra sessions.
“Just trying to keep it as normal as possible, that’s worked for us this season,” Baldwin said.
“Far as I am aware, everyone will be good to go. Even if there’s a couple of niggles, they’ll want to go on with it.”
After a harder-than-expected semifinal win over McCarthy Transport Ruapehu, Baldwin sat down to watch the footage of Taihape defying Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau on their own ground.
“Hard to really take too much out of it, to be honest, it was just a physical semifinal.
“The Taihape defence was outstanding, which you’d expect at this time of year.”
This raises the question of whether Border’s vaunted attacking ball-runners, from 10 try-scoring winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone, his hard-running centre cousin Alekesio Vakarorogo, and awesome loose forward prospect Semi Vodosese can find a way through the wall.
“There will be plans in place, I guess you’ll find out on Saturday,” said Baldwin.
“It all comes down to pressure, and winning those little moments. In the past, we’ve been guilty of not finishing the job off.
“I’ve been there plenty of times, it doesn’t get any easier. When the opportunities arise, you take them.
“[Taihape]’ll get the respect they deserve from us.”
Right behind Tikoisolomone on the season tries list is incumbent Steelform Wanganui halfback Lindsay Horrocks, who has some scores he’d like to settle from 2019.
Notable after Taihape’s win over Kaierau came down to accuracy of the goal-kicking, with first-five Dane Whale slotting three from four, is that Border’s proven match-winners Craig Clare and Nick Harding have been a little off this season from the tee; not that it mattered with 65 tries scored.
However, only 32 conversions, which included three from back-up Jack Lupton until injury ended his season, plus three penalties is less than the usual yield and could be telling in a final where every point counts.
However, the former first-five Wells knows it is best not to leave any match up to the boot-men.
“I can’t talk, I missed a kick to win a final, and last year when we won, Dane didn’t kick half of them.
“Their back three is class, they’ve just good attacking strike power everywhere out wide.
“But how many opportunities do you get in a final out wide?”
Jaye Flaws and Luke Whale did a good job of containing Kaierau’s midfielders, and Taihape would likewise love to turn this into a forwards-dominated encounter where their front row of Wiremu Cottrell, Dylan Gallien and Hadlee Hay-Horton match-up very well with Border’s Kamipeli Latu, Hamish Mellow and Ross McDonald.
Taihape’s young flankers Lennox Shanks and Ollie Rhodes have their toughest test against Border’s dynamic Angus Middleton, while the inspirational skipper Matt Brown will look to get inside the head of his opposite locks Jack Hodges and another future prospect in Toby Lennox.
“Get up in their face and D like mongrels and put a bit of pressure on them,” said Wells.
“Set piece, there’s nothing more important at the end of the season, with two pretty good scrums and lineouts between them.”
Kickoff is at the later time of 3pm.
The match will be live-steamed on the WRFU Facebook page.
Road to the Final
- July 4: Border bt Ruapehu 58-13; Taihape bt Kaierau 6-5.
- July 11: Border lost to Kaierau 19-12; Taihape bt Marist 19-18.
- July 18: Border bt Taihape 18-17.
- July 25: Border bt Marist 79-19; Taihape bt Ngamatapouri 35-5.
- August 1: Border bt Ngamatapouri 90-0; Taihape bt Ruapehu 45-24.
- August 8: Border bt Ruapehu 44-12; Taihape lost to Kaierau 22-12.
- August 15: Border bt Kaierau 32-18; Taihape bt Marist 36-10.
- August 22: Border bt Taihape 36-19.
- August 29: Border bt Marist 44-10; Taihape bt Ngamatapouri 77-17.
- September 5: Border bt Ngamatapouri by default; Taihape bt Ruapehu 26-17.
September 12 (Semifinals): Border bt Ruapehu 29-15; Taihape bt Kaierau 18-13.
- Border – Played: 11; Won: 10; Lost: 1; Points For: 442; Points Against: 142.
- Taihape – Played 11; Won: 8; Lost: 3; Points For: 310; Points Against: 185.
Head to head Grand Finals
- 2016: Border bt Taihape 17-16
- 2019: Taihape bt Border 31-26 (after extra time)