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Border tackle their way to Tasman Tanning Premier glory

By Jared Smith

The game plan went right out the window and they had to live without ball or territory, but Waverley Harvesting Border threw off any whispers of a chokers tag with a gutsy 22-19 win in the Tasman Tanning Premier final on Saturday.

Defending champions Byfords Readimix Taihape, so confident after last year’s victory in extra time over Border, who were again the higher qualifier, controlled virtually 70 minutes of the contest at Cooks Gardens.

14 Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)

They worked forward off the whistle to trap Border in their own corners during both halves, while bashing for wave-after-wave through their forwards.

The most telling statistic is this: Taihape kicked into Border’s corner for attacking penalty lineouts – their bread and butter – around 18-19 times, and 16-17 times Border managed to hold them out.

Despite playing almost 20 minutes of the second half with 14 men, including the last nine minutes after both hard-working prop Hamish Mellow and then dynamic centre Alekesio Vakarorogo were sinbinned for professional fouls, the thin yellow-and-white line held, while Border turned to their ace-in-the-hole fullback Nick Harding to keep them alive.

After a brilliant Vakarorogo dash in the fifth minute to set up Border’s sole try to co-captain Angus Middleton, who worked himself into the ground, the Waverley club managed only one other penetration into Taihape’s 10m zone, so it was Harding’s long-range boot which proved crucial.

15 Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)

After a previously wayward season, he slotted six from six, whereas Taihape first-five Dane Whale, who had a free hand to run the game with his side having all the momentum, would only manage two from six.

But Taihape were never interested in leaving the outcome to their goal-kicker, as they out-scored Border three tries to one, being led non-stop by Player of the Day prop Hadlee Hay-Horton, his fellow prop Wiremu Cottrell, who scored off a lineout drive, aggressive skipper Matt Brown at lock and key distributor Tremaine Gilbert at No8.

When Taihape searched wide, having nullified Border’s pace men for the most part, fullback Tyler Rogers-Holden and winger Tiari Mumby were dangerous, both scoring by twisting through 2m rucks, but other than those moments, it was Border trapping the ball or ripping it free, and then booting clear, which proved decisive.

5 Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)

Border halfback Lindsay Horrocks made a couple of priceless steals, while co-captain Craig Clare showed all his big-match guile, including a piece of individual flair to nearly set up another try which gave Harding an easy penalty chance before halftime.

Normally, prop Kamipeli Latu, lock Jack Hodges, flanker Semi Vodosese and No8 Ranato Tikoisolomone love creating front foot ball to set their speedsters loose, but Taihape starved them of it, so it was all hands to the pumps in the engine room instead.

“Championships are won on defence,” said Border coach Cole Baldwin, who after obtaining the honour as a player has now added a Premier gold medal as a debut coach, just as his Taihape opposite Tom Wells had done the year before.

11 Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)

“Full credit to these boys, they wanted it, they weren’t prepared to just give it away, which teams of the past may have,” said Baldwin.

“Their mental strength was just outstanding.”

All the pre-match thought had been centred on how Border were going to handle Taihape’s aggressive work at the breakdown to stifle their vaunted pace attack, but in the end, they barely managed a handful of spreads or line breaks.

“We wanted to play at the right end of the field, but we still need to hold onto the ball as well, and when we kept on kicking the ball away we weren’t really helping ourselves,” said Baldwin.

“But credit where credit is due, the boy’s hung in there and just tackle, tackle, tackle. With the amount of ball Taihape had, they should have won by 30 points.

10 Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)

“Every final you got to learn to graft it out, these guys have done fantastic, been the most consistent side all season, they deserve this result.

“Congratulate Taihape for their efforts as well, they brought a whole lot to the table, but that’s the way it is.”

Wells could only shake his head at fulltime, wondering how a game they controlled by every metric except the scoreboard got away.

“No disrespect, but the better team didn’t win today. But that’s finals.

“We’ve had a few of them that have been this close.

“The boys played awesome today, absolutely dominated Border, but at the end of the day, they got the spoils and that’s it. Until next year.”

15 Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)

While the loss hurts, consecutive grand final appearances by virtue of winning away semifinals shows Taihape can still improve and remain a force on the Premier scene.

“Our team’s probably got still a young age group, it’s hard to say now, but we’re all local boys, if we’re not playing rugby, we’ll be floating around,” said Wells.

“These guys are only going to learn from this, we’ll be more experienced next year, a year older, so no reason why we can’t crack in again.”

Border’s first real attacking opportunity of the game would be their best, as the backs spread from a 50m lineout and Vakarorogo broke through two tackles to find Middleton ranging in support, being injured as he sent his flanker off to the tryline for 7-0 in the fifth minute.

Taihape were building , as Gilbert and hooker Dylan Gallien looked to work together to create a line break, but after Whale had his first penalty miss, Border kicked long from the 22m and Middleton forced a no-release penalty in the attacking half for Harding to make it 10-0 against the run of play.

Getting their own infringement and going into Border’s corner, Taihape worked with Hay-Horton off the lineout drive, with an excellent recycle back for Cottrell to dive through the open gate for 10-7.

But almost immediately from the restart, Border secured the ball and Clare went for a dart, with Taihape over- extending and Harding re-establishing a buffer from a long way out in the 26th minute.

Yet they soon found themselves defending another lineout drive, with Middleton holding up Brown at the tryline, but from the 5m scrum win, Taihape fed the incredibly slippery Mumby, who repeated his semifinal try against Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau by somehow twisting through tacklers to score.

13 12 Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)

With Taihape having closed to 13-12 and his team getting no traction, Clare had to improvise and produced a fantastic chip and re-gather, followed by an immediate grubber kick for Vodosese, with Border getting a penalty beside the posts and Harding slotting it five minutes before halftime.

The second half followed an unchanging script as Taihape lived in Border’s territory – driving forward and trying everything from cut out passes to short-balls coming into contact, but somehow the Waverley men managed to stop them.

Whale was away with another kick but Taihape were eager to press advantage when Mellow was sinbinned in the 56th minute, becoming furious when referee Ben Lourie permitted golden oldie scrums, of which there were two in the prop’s absence.

Another hooked penalty attempt and Taihape still couldn’t close the gap, while Border extended it by getting a penalty while carrying out of their half, with Harding just dropping his 40m effort over the cross bar into a slight breeze for 19-12.

Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)

The frustration was getting to Taihape as a high tackle on a ranging Vakarorogo inside his own half was followed by a ruck penalty off the lineout and then a further 10m for backchat, with the red hot Harding making no mistake in the 69th minute.

From 22-12, Border were sure they could shut the game down, but Taihape’s fresh reserves gave them added impetus on the carry and then Vakarorogo was gone in the 71st minute.

The umpteenth Taihape attacking lineout saw Brown and Hay-Horton carry towards the posts, and then Rogers-Holden moved into halfback and fended his way through an exhausted line to dive across, with Whale taking the close range conversion quickly to narrow the gap to three with six minutes left.

Border, with one last shot of adrenaline, kicked long and chased hard, trying to trap Taihape, forcing Whale to kick, but both sides flirted with disaster as Border were pinged at the ruck, while Taihape then gave away a penalty from the lineout drive, only to see Border make a crooked lineout throw-in after their clearence.

With time all but up, Gilbert made two strong bursts towards the posts, but one final turnover came to Border reserve James McDonald, with Border kicking ahead and forcing the ball out in front of their delirious reserves bench back at Taihape’s 22m to sign off another Cooks Gardens thriller.

Border 22 (Angus Middleton try; Nick Harding 5 pen, con)
bt Taihape 19 (Wiremu Cottrell, Tiari Mumby, Tyler Rogers-Holden tries; Dane Whale 2 con)
HT: 16-12.

Premier Rugby Final. Taihape vs Border. Supplied by Whanganui Chronicle (Lewis Gardner)