Steelform Wanganui survives season finale with Poverty Bay

By Jared Smith

Well, there’s easier ways to win a rugby game, but after 79 points in 80 minutes, Steelform Wanganui emerged with the final victory for a Heartland union in 2020 – holding on 41-38 over Poverty Bay in Napier on Saturday.

For the few supporters who came to McLean Park early ahead of the Magpies vs Turbos clash for the Ranfurly Shield, they were treated to an offensive exhibition in warm conditions, with a breeze that proved more influential than first considered.

Having taken beautiful lines off attacking lineouts when they had the momentum, with double try-scorers Josaia Bogileka and Vereniki Tikoisolomone running riot in tailor-made conditions, it seemed Wanganui had the game on toast, leading 31-12 at the break and extending out to 41-12 around eight minutes into the second stanza.

But while Poverty Bay’s defence was the traditional leaky nature, their line speed and courage with ball in hand remains resolute, as back-to-back stunning seven-pointers left matters a little close for comfort at 41-31 with plenty of time left.

Suddenly trapped in their own half, Wanganui had nightmare flashbacks from the loss to King Country as they got isolated on their carries for costly turnovers, while attempts to dominate the lineout saw a few mistakes creep in with mid-air fumbles from loose lifting.

When Poverty Bay’s 50th-game playing first-five Kelvin Smith dragged the ball over the line for 41-38 with just over ten minutes remaining, it was nearly panic stations, as Wanganui risked bringing on their young inexperienced reserve players to try to hold the line.

Play finished up with 14-a-side as both Poverty Bay winger Te Peehi Fairlie and Tikisolomone were sinbinned for knocking the ball down, while Wanganui managed to get back into good attacking positions but were monstered in the scrums by towering reserve prop Jarryd Broughton.

With time up, Poverty Bay had one last throw of the dice with a penalty coming out of their half, but after a near flawless display with two tries, a conversion and booming line kicks, fullback Andrew Tauatevalu inexplicably missed touch and Wanganui reserve Ethan Robinson was more than grateful to kick it dead and end the game.

Incredibly, a penalty which Wanganui first-five Dane Whale slotted in the opening three minutes, one of five straight kicks in front which he landed, before missing two in the second stanza, would prove the difference in a game where 12 tries were scored.

“That’s what we said all week about Poverty Bay – they’re a team that can score 30 points against you, and we were lucky we got three more,” said relieved coach Jason Caskey.

“We’re disappointed with the defence at times, we were pretty weak, to be fair.

“The first half even, we were going too high on their big boys, you got to go low and chop, and they were peeling metres off and being able to carry 5m behind us a lot.

“They got a few good midfield balls and breeched us, and had enough speed to finish them.”

While conditions suited Poverty Bay’s strengths, it also came towards Wanganui’s attacking prowess – as Whale, second-five Timoci Seruwalu, No 8 Semi Vodosese, Bogileka and especially Tikoisolomone were given tempting room to work and made the most of it.

“We’re really happy with what we did  in the first half, but we went away from it, we probably didn’t look after the ball enough, took a couple of things too lightly,” said Caskey.

“But it was a good, entertaining game for the boys to finish with, so they would have enjoyed themselves, and that’s a big plus.”

Wanganui ended up asking a lot from their rather untried bench – the likes of teenaged reserve winger Logan Henry had been rushed into the side less than 24 hours beforehand, and performed very well, while forwards Matt Brown and Bradley O’Leary had their baptism of fire.

“You got to have faith in them and get them on there, and they didn’t let themselves down,” said Caskey.

“At least it was a bit of a spectacle, and some good tries were scored. There’s a lot of things we wouldn’t be happy with, but it’s the end of the year so we’re not going to go too overboard about it.”

Captain Campbell Hart pinpointed the moment when a match that was cruising suddenly began to run downhill, out of control.

“We took a tap penalty on the line, and that was turned over, and they swung down the field and scored straight after that – and that was the momentum swing right there.

“We couldn’t break the tide for a while there, we didn’t have the ball.

“Our lineout, I’m pretty happy with that, our ball and their ball, we stole a lot of their ball, made a mess of it, didn’t give them clean ball.

“[The spectacle] was probably not good if you were a Wanganui supporter in the second half.”

It was a great start for the supporters watching on live TV, as Poverty Bay lost the kickoff and Wanganui carried towards the line – Whale trying an early grubber kick for Tikoisolomone – but the men in red had already infringed and the fly-half took the easy three.

But Poverty Bay got a penalty of their own to kick down into the attacking corner, where they surprised Wanganui as hooker Riki Terekia did not make the throw-in, instead loitering at the back to claim the overthrow and dive over the line.

Wanganui were unperturbed – with the breeze at their backs they made big inroads, while the visitors gave away a few penalties and errors for trying to deflect the passes by getting in the channels.

Eventually, the weight of possession told as from a penalty lineout win, Bogileka cut through and made a great step inside with the cover slow to arrive, running under the bar.

Five minutes later, another clean take by Hart in a numbers lineout meant standout flanker Jamie Hughes was free in the backline to put Bogileka through for his double.

A loose pass from Poverty Bay came to lock Matt Ashworth, and swiftly the ball was fired to Tikoisolomone, who burned off everyone except centre Tione Hubbard, who despite dragging him down at the chalk couldn’t stop cousin Alekesio Vakarorogo snatching the ball and diving over.

Another penalty lineout and the defence moved to swamp Whale, but not before he had put Tikoisolomone through the hole and this time no-one had a hope of stopping him.

At 31-5, it was looking like a blowout, but Poverty Bay worked forward off a series of penalties in the shadow of halftime, keeping hope alive when winger Fairlie followed up second-five Jacob Leaf’s drive at the line to dive across.

After the restart, like the Wairarapa Bush game, Poverty Bay made a costly turnover when hot on attack and Seruwalu looked like he might rush off to score until that man Hubbard caught him, yet the offload to Tikoisolomone was all-she-wrote for a 90m stunner.

Just three minutes later, Wanganui switched tactics as they made the perfect drive from a penalty lineout win, with hooker Joe Edwards transferring the ball to prop Gabriel Hakaraia, who scored under the heap of bodies for 41-12.

But from here,the roof nearly caved in.

A loose lineout came to Poverty Bay and lock Juston Allan went on the charge, with halfback Ra Broughton, a former Taihape man, nearly slipping through to score, before the ruck pass was fired to an open Tauatevalu to run it in.

Wanganui’s next attack right on Poverty Bay’s line was stopped cold with a penalty awarded, and Hubbard punched a hole in the midfield, and when Wanganui infringed cutting down his support runners, an attacking lineout saw skipper/flanker Adrian Wyrill burrow under defenders for 41-26.

That half a sniff became the smell of blood for Poverty Bay as just 90 seconds later, Hubbard was through again and his chip kick went away from Wanganui fullback Tyler Rodgers-Holden, with the chasers keeping it on the toe for Tauatevalu to win the race to the in-goal.

At 41-31, Wanganui lost Hakaraia to injury while the towering Jarryd Broughton made himself known, as he and fellow prop Atonio Walker-Leawere began to make some big metres on either side of the ruck, while turning Wanganui’s scrums at will.

Wanganui’s pack redoubled their efforts on their own line, preventing a drive over, but the ball was fired to Smith, who held off Hughes with one arm to reach out and plant the ball, with Tauatevalu taking over the goal-kicking to close the gap to three points with ten minutes left.

Fairlie leaving with a yellow card gave Wanganui a golden chance to seal the match against 14 men, but Poverty Bay forced them into errors, and then Tikoisolomone’s departure evened up proceedings with the clock having cleared 80 minutes.

But thankfully for Wanganui, swaying on the ropes, Tauatevalu made his only mistake of the game for the Butcher’s Boys to get out of jail.

Wanganui 41 (J Bogileka 2, V Tikoisolomone 2, A Vakarorogo, G Hakaraia tries; D Whale pen, 4 con) bt Poverty Bay 38 (A Tauatevalu 2, R Terekia, T Fairlie, A Wyrill, K Smith tries; Smith 3 con, Tauatevalu con). HT: 31-12.