Kaierau survived tough trip to Ohakune.
By Jared Smith
Up in Ohakune they don’t just call him “Mr Hart” because he’s a schoolteacher, and it was only the finishing ability of a recent schoolboy that denied the teacher’s team a significant Tasman Tanning Premier victory on Saturday.
McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu came closer than any of the lower three Premier sides in the last one-and-a-half seasons to an upset of a leading club, as an injury-plagued Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau survived a 22-15 arm-wrestle at a windy Rochfort Park.
Facing virtually a 16th man on defence as they had to carry out of their own 50m rather than kick into the breeze for the first half, Kaierau would have been confident after they weathered giving up a try in the first 30 seconds from a mistake to lead 7-5 at the break.
The problem was they forgot that carry-then-control rugby is the bread and butter of the handful of remaining Ruapehu veterans from the glory years – and they all responded magnificently in the second stanza.
Hooker Roman Tutauha looked in his best form in two seasons, well supported by flankers Jack Kinder and Jamie Hughes, along with prop Gabriel Hakaraia, who started on the bench but made up the workload in his 50 minute stint.
Yet the key man was No8 Campbell Hart – dominant in the lineout, busting through and over the top of Kaierau’s lighter loose forwards on the carry, and using short offloads around his zippy halves to create extra impetus when spreading the ball.
Ruapehu scored tit-for-tat tries with Kaierau, who kept making errors, to trail just 17-15 midway through the second stanza.
However, despite a laundry list of walking wounded, Kaierau worked hard enough at the breakdowns to secure their share of turnovers, along with some of Ruapehu’s younger players still making errors coming into contact.
It set up opportunities to spread the ball to newcomer and former Whanganui junior rep Harry Unsworth and the Collegiate 1st XV old boy did not disappoint – showing great composure to latch on to ranging passes and fly away to score a double at the corner flag.
One of those came from a great intercept and dash from captain Ethan Robinson, the other from a decisive tap kick and run from the ageless veteran Ace Malo.
Elsewhere, halfback Cameron Davies had to do a tonne of work around the fringes of the ruck, while lock Josh Lane overcame a hard blow to make some important tackles and hit-ups.
Kaierau put a lot of faith on the young shoulders of Ezra Malo at first-five and he showed great maturity, although the swirling breeze was a torment for his goal kicking.
Coming off two losses and still missing a host of injured talent in Dylan Bowater, Kohlt Coveny, Cade Robinson, Dillon Adrole, Matt Ashworth, Jack van Bussel and Tawera Puhohotaua, coach Carl Gibson had been nervous about the trip to Ohakune.
“We expected that, they were a gutsy team and we already knew they were a gutsy team, and they were led by their leaders really well.
“They used that short side into the wind extremely well – that was home ground knowledge.
“Campbell Hart – his carries were insane.
“But credit to my guys for sticking in – we’ve had a lot of guys playing out of position and different things.
“That was the first time that backline’s played together and I was quite excited about that – they looked good on occasions, once we got them running.
“Rapt to go home on the bus with a win, get the season back on track.”
So eager to get their first major scalp since 2019, Ruapehu coach Kim McNaught felt it was the one that got away.
“I was thinking at halftime that with the wind, five points against this team wasn’t good enough, so if we’d got a few more points on the board it would have been different.
“Full credit to our guys – we played that second half kind of like Kaierau did their one, and we knew it was going to be tough with the likes of Ethan kicking us around.
“It’s good having [Tutauha] back – he’s been around a long time and he compliments Jamie and Campbell.
“[Hart] does a lot of work for us – especially on defence and attack in that set piece.”
Earning the only bonus point for the three lower table teams after Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist weren’t close in Waverley and Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri didn’t even show up in Taihape, Ruapehu are still favourites to keep their 14 year semifinal streak alive.
“We had a bit of a talk on Thursday, and we didn’t want to leave it up to Ngamat or Marist to decide our fate, and we wanted to go here and have a good crack at Kaierau, and we just couldn’t get it over the line,” said McNaught.
“We get another shot against Taihape at home, so that will be a tough one.”
It was looking so promising early as Ruapehu removed their unfortunate season record from the week before against Waverley Harvesting Border by scoring in just 30 seconds.
Kaierau carried into the wind from the kickoff and lost the ball, leading to first-five Keaton Norling snatching it up and stepping through dive tackles to score.
It would take nearly 30 minutes of hard graft for Kaierau to get a reply but when they did it was well executed as Ezra Malo put in a cross kick for prop Faafetai Pulemagafa to contest, with the ball spilling loose for centre Opetini Dryden to pick up and twist over to score – Malo converting from near touch.
Harnessing the wind after halftime, Kaierau were stunned by Ruapehu still bashing through them, as from an attacking scrum Hart ran right over tacklers to set up Tutauha going close to the line, and although halfback Oli Keast was scragged as he grabbed the ball, he rolled over his tackler to force it down for 10-7.
Kinder, Hart and others had Ruapehu straight back on attack, before Robinson snatched an intercept and ran back to halfway, found hooker Joe Edwards with a pass over the top, and Unsworth was there to burn off the cover for his first Premier try.
But again, Ruapehu wouldn’t go away as Hakaraia combined with second-five Kahl Elers-Green, and Tutauha was there again for another surge, which left winger Gavin Martin finally open, after looking threatening earlier, to run off and score in the corner.
Trailing again, Kaierau responded with their best play of the match – as from an attacking scrum fullback Karl Pascoe game into the line to send Unsworth flying at the corner, then freeing it back to fellow winger Vili Kuruyabaki, who was stopped short, before Pascoe got the ball from the ruck to dive across.
A tip tackle on flanker Woody Martin saw Kaierau get a penalty and the veteran Ace Malo had the vision for a quick tap and pivoted off both shoulders to attract the outside cover, before Unsworth took his pass and ran into the corner, tucking his legs in on the dive to avoid being forced out.
Both Ezra Malo and Robinson tried penalties from nearly in front to make the game safe with the clock winding down, but the wind pushed them away, meaning Ruapehu at least got a competition point for their day’s efforts.
Kaierau 22 (H Unsworth 2, O Dryden, K Pascoe tries; E Malo con) bt Ruapehu 15 (K Norling, O Keast, G Martin tries). HT: 7-5.