Taihape still strongest country cousin in Ruapehu clash
By Jared Smith
Northern sub-union supremacy in Tasman Tanning Premier remains conclusively with Byfords Readimix Taihape, although McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu showed signs of progress after an entertaining 38-22 country scrap on Saturday.
In front of a good Memorial Park crowd in sunny autumn conditions, Taihape’s continuity as a playing group told as they blew out to a 31-10 lead not long after halftime – catching out Ruapehu with ball in hand, while lining them up for some hard-thumping midfield tackles to force the mountain men back behind the advantage line.
However, while Taihape’s mantra of contesting anything and everything at the breakdown often results in plenty of turnovers, it also occasionally brings a heavy dose of the referee’s whistle, which allowed Ruapehu to stay in the contest through their remaining veterans and some enterprising attacking play from their small but plucky outside backs.
Two tries in the dying minutes, the second an excellent breakout from their own half, gave Ruapehu the first bonus point from one of the three lower tier sides in the Premier competition, locking them into fourth spot on the table, although the proud club has designs of being more than ‘best of the rest’ in 2021.
Taihape continue to add strings to their bow – No 8 Ben Whale joining his brothers has added another gear to their attack, as he was dominant in the midfield, while Tyrese Payne continues to improve after his debut in Premier last season – scoring a long-range intercept try early, then spotting Ruapehu sleeping with a quick tap to set prop Hadlee Hay-Horton away for a quick score straight after halftime.
Fullback Dane Whale controlled the tempo with his boot in general play, and after a wayward first half with the conversions, came right to slot all three attempts in the second stanza.
Hooker Dylan Gallien and flankers Beau Walker and Regan Collier left their mark with some solid tackling.
For Ruapehu, it was great to see former Steelform Wanganui skipper back Roman Tutauha back in the starting XV, with the hooker laying on Ruapehu’s first try and scoring the second, both from blindside surges on signature rolling mauls.
Co-captain Campbell Hart was an island in a sea of Taihape jerseys, while promising reserve back Logan Blackburn impressed when he came on in the last 15 minutes, scoring the bonus point try and finally slotting a conversion for the visitors as their third kicker.
With head coach Tom Wells away, his predecessor and current assistant Kerry Whale took the helm for a team containing his three sons, and appreciated that despite the two sides being at different stages in their development, the visitors still brought them a familiar tussle.
“Ruapehu should be proud of themselves. They’re probably more than a step off with young fellas finding their feet.
“It was a good game, you’d expect nothing less. We’re still scrappy, haven’t settled into our play yet.
“We’ve got a couple of returnees coming back in next week”
Ruapehu head coach Kim McNaught remains determined to drive his players forward, as they look to become the first lower tier team to beat one of the three leading clubs in two seasons.
“It’s like I said to the boys – ‘the little one-percenters’. That intercept try, and probably that one down here where they kicked it back and we didn’t get back in time.
“They’re well structured – with those Whale boys, they get this team around the paddock.
“For us, it’s just getting all the boys to training. We’re trying to run a structure where it’s hard to do.
“If we get everyone there, and we get Jamie [Hughes] back, we’ll be right.
“Our set piece is good, but for the third or fourth phase we get in, we kind of lose shape….and with a team like this, they pick out a weak D.”
Ruapehu had early chances off penalty lineouts, but Taihape’s ability to pressure the breakdown and rush up on the midfielders – smartly if occasionally too quickly – reaped reward when Payne snatched a cut out pass and juggled it through defenders to run off under the posts.
The visitors responded after Taihape were guilty of infringement, driving from a penalty lineout and while held, Tutauha spotted the opening and went blindside to put halfback Ollie Keast over in the corner in the 15th minute.
Ruapehu had their own issues with penalties at the breakdown, as Taihape took a 5m attacking scrum and Dane Whale swept into the backline on the blindside drag the last tackler over for 12-5.
The visitors kept control for 8-9 phases to earn another infringement, and from the attacking lineout Taihape again stopped the drive, but Tutauha just pulled the direction the opposite way, backed by Hart and co-captain Gabriel Hakaraia, to drive under the bodies and score.
Ben Whale, who was used as an attacking centre off Taihape’s set piece, went back into the scrum for a close range attack and fended his way through to put the home side up 17-10 at the break.
Given a signature Kerry Whale halftime rark up, Taihape resumed with an intensity Ruapehu couldn’t match, as Ben Whale and Collier nearly broke through, and then Payne spied the visitors not getting back smartly from a penalty in front of the posts – feeding lock PT Hay-Horton to send brother Hadlee diving across in the 42nd minute.
PT Hay-Horton and Walker then ran back strongly from a Ruapehu missed touch-finder, with Gallien bringing them back to the posts for halfback James Barrett to sneak through at the breakdown to score.
Ruapehu managed to briefly stop the deluge, but Taihape had found another gear, with winger Tiari Mumby dashing after a chip kick into open space and keeping it on the toe, away from a diving defender, to win the race in-goal for 38-10 in the 60th minute.
Just playing for a bonus point now, Ruapehu didn’t give up, beginning to spread the ball more themselves with front rowers and backs alike charging wide.
After Tutauha combined with fellow veteran Corey Carmichael to get Ruapehu into the tryline corner, Taihape were a step offside and from the ensuring scrum, Hakaraia leapt straight through two dive tackles to score with six minutes left.
Ruapehu only needed another 60 seconds for their fourth try, as midfielders Kahl Elers-Green and Royce Trow broke through to set up reserve winger Takarangi Metekingi flying down the touchline, then finding Blackburn inside to get his side off the dreaded 0 on the points table.
Taihape (T Payne, D Whale, B Whale, H Hay-Horton, J Barrett, T Mumby tries; Whale 4 con) bt Ruapehu (O Keast, R Tutauha, G Hakaraia, L Blackburn tries; Blackburn con). HT: 17-10.
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