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Mistakes cost Steelform Wanganui in narrow loss to King Country

By Jared Smith (& Pictures)

The victory convoy started at Taumarunui Domain and headed all the way back to Te Kuiti as King Country lifted the Sir Colin Meads Memorial Trophy for the first time with a 16-11 win over Steelform Wanganui on Saturday.

On the occasion of their skipper Carl Carmichael’s 100th first-class game, it does not matter a dot to the home side that the match was a mistake-riddled affair with a constant stream of dropped ball, offsides and ineffectual passes.

Last weekend against Horowhenua-Kapiti, Wanganui got dragged into an arm wrestle until halftime when they began to execute with ball in hand, but this time, they played two bad halves of football and it was the hosts who finally began to maintain possession in the final quarter, when they knew they had more than a sniff.

It seemed Wanganui had still stolen the match back when fullback turned first-five Craig Clare slotted a pressure 40m penalty with the wind behind him for 11-10 with six minutes left.

However, when just a strong kick into the corner would have sufficed, Wanganui cracked as young No8 Semi  Vodosese was asked to take a midfield carry but went behind his support runners, leading to King Country fullback Mohi Roberts landing his second penalty into the breeze.

Another King Country attack into Wanganui’s 22m and winger Tyler Rogers-Holden was ruled offside, reserve flanker Cade Robinson was sent off by referee Chris Cowie for allegedly swearing at him rather than just in general, and Roberts slotted another three-pointer to end the match.

Having parity in the scrum and advantage in the lineout, the visitors would have won in a canter if they had executed even half of their attacks  – lock Josh Lane his team’s standout player with a couple of leaping steals and midfield breaks where his offloads were actually caught.

King Country first-five Kieron Rollinson had a horror first half, stifling any expansive play outside him, although Wanganui actually knocked on 3-4 times while trying to pick up passes he fumbled backwards.

Wanganui’s frustrations only grew in the second stanza as they were held up at or over the tryline three times, with hooker Joe Edwards and midfielders Timoci Seruwalu and Josaia Bogileka all going close, while a couple of line calls relayed from the grandstand-sideline assistant referee to Cowie seemed questionable.

Someone had to step up and start putting it together, and unfortunately for Wanganui it was the King Country forwards.

As well as the inspiring Carmichael, prop Dan Towler had a massive match with some great tackle-busting runs for his side, as did reserve prop Josevata Curuki when he came on – holding up Edwards over the line and then at the other end going for a blindside sneak from a tryline ruck, as Wanganui left a big gap, to get the converted try to put his team ahead 10-8.

King Country players went wild at fulltime after Roberts’ last penalty, and Wanganui assistant coach Jason Hamlin could only acknowledge the obvious.

“Coming out of halftime, we spoke to the boys about our error rate.

“The intent was right, but our skill execution wasn’t there, and perhaps we were just guilty of trying to play too much, where we just had to be direct.

“Hold the ball for a bit and the space would have appeared, so the boys were seeing the space and just trying to get to it in that one phase, as opposed to building some pressure.

“Doing that played into their hands. In the end, we didn’t play smart enough and we didn’t deserve to win.

“We got the lead at the end, and then we didn’t clear. We didn’t execute properly, we decided to take two or three carries and ask our No8 to carry to the midfield and he runs behind someone.

“We’ve got Lindsay [Horrocks], Chock [Clare], some really experienced heads in there. Should have been getting the ball, pumping it down there and then D’ing up.

“King Country fronted up, played to what they were planning to do, and we didn’t.”

With 15 minutes left Wanganui were trying repetitive spread plays over halfway instead of using the wind to kick for the pocket and then attack; being undone by lost ball or the referee’s whistle on isolated rucks, which greatly annoyed captain Campbell Hart.

“It’s a lack of maturity. When we’re in space and if it’s not on, we need the maturity to take it down, reset and go again.

“But we didn’t put any phases together so we had no continuity, every two phases it was a scrum because of dropped ball or something like that.

“Can’t play at this level and expect to win games with that level of turning the ball over.

“We know that’s well below our best and below our standard.

“The challenge now is to come back and find that standard pretty quick, because we’ve got a pretty Wairarapa Bush side waiting for us.”

It started so well for Wanganui as after pressuring the kickoff and taking a lineout in good position, they carried through Seruwalu and prop Gabriel Hakaraia towards the posts, and then first-five Dane Whale spotted a half gap and much like against Horowhenua-Kapiti, eased his way through for an unconverted try.

Then followed 20 odd minutes of ugly rugby by both teams – each making unforced errors but giving the ball straight back to each other – before a low Whale pass bounced off the Wanganui midfielder’s and Rollinson hacked it ahead.

Rogers-Holden produced a try-saving tackle on the King Country chaser, but from the next ruck the home side had a penalty in front and Roberts closed the gap to two points against the run of play.

Wanganui had turned down kickable penalties for attacking scrums but would lose possession, and nearly went behind just after the break when Roberts missed another penalty attempt.

That seemed to galvanize them into action as they used penalty chances to get into King Country’s corner, where Edwards all but scored, before the midfielder’s were denied, with Seruwalu losing it inches short of the chalk.

King Country managed to relieve the pressure, as Wanganui backchat cost them another 10m, but the visitor’s next attack into the 30m saw Clare opted for the psychological lift of getting points by taking the kick for 8-3.

But if Wanganui thought King Country’s scrambling defence, which was just hanging on, would finally crack they were mistaken.

Despite Rollinson briefly taking over the kicking and missing three points in front, he was finally able to link consistently with midfielders Joe Perawiti and Josevata Malimole, who along with dangerous winger Mosese Baravilala had plenty of energy left, thanks to the stop-start match.

Big carries by Towler, Malimole and even Rollinson himself brought them down to Wanganui’s line with a penalty advantage, and no-one thought to cover the space to the left side of the ruck until Curuki had snatched up the ball, and that half-a-second gap was all he needed for 10-8.

Wanganui still had faith that another try had to be on the offering, but after a multitude of mistakes they looked to proven match-winner Clare to nail the pressure penalty instead.

Yet the last six minutes proved a text-book example of how not to play defensive rugby, as King Country claimed the Pinetree Log and their first win over Wanganui since 2014.

King Country 16 (J Curuki try; M Roberts 3 pen, con) bt Wanganui 11 (D Whale try; C Clare 2 pen). HT: 5-3 Wanganui.