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Steelform Whanganui retains Bruce Steel Memorial Cup in whistle-heavy match

By Jared Smith  (Photos by Sarah Lourie Photography)

The Bruce Steel Memorial Cup will stay with Steelform Whanganui and they have gotten back into the Lochore/Meads Cup equation, but only just after the 22-18 win over Wairarapa Bush on Saturday.

An observer who knew nothing except the fulltime and halftime scores – the latter 11-5 to the visitors at Cooks Gardens – might assume the game had a spine-tingling finish and some electrifying action.

Instead, 28 penalties, a 15-13 count in favour of the visitors, created a very stop-start affair, as befits the whistle sounding less than every three minutes of play.

Going into the wind in the first half and losing the ball to miss two tries, Whanganui eventually clicked into gear through their forward pack driving 75th game-playing hooker Roman Tutauha over the line, while player-of-the-day lock Josh Lane created the bust that led to the third try which made his team safe on the scoreboard at 22-11 in the fourth quarter.

But in the hunt to secure maximum points against a side which had been hammered by competition leaders South Canterbury and Thames Valley, Whanganui just could not crack the all-important fourth try, as some mistakes and the symphony of the whistle at the breakdown continued.

Having played his 75th game last week, halfback Lindsay Horrocks kept up the queries with official Stu Catley about just what his side was doing wrong at the breakdown, as Wairarapa Bush drove in and looked to get their hands on it at every opportunity.

Still, the home side was guilty of some lapses in execution, while Wairarapa Bush were buoyed by still being in the contest, ultimately camping in Whanganui’s territory to score the last try on fulltime and register their first point of the Bunning Heartland competition.

Goal-kicking winger Moomoo Falanikoi earned that try as part of a strong game alongside fellow winger Soli Malatai – both also trying to be playmakers for a team that lost All Black Zac Guildford before kickoff.

Lock Sam Gammie gave an inspired performance with some monster tackles which rattled Whanganui cages, plus some key turnovers.

For the home side, Tutauha gave a very committed effort, aside from accidently spilling the ball onto his knee over the tryline in the first half, while as the sole specialist lock, Lane was monumental.

Second-five Ethan Robinson took the goal-kicking reins off both Craig Clare and Dane Whale, who both have more experience from the tee at Cooks Gardens than he does, but Robinson was on-song with all three second half kicks, including from the sideline.

He also moved into first-five in the latter stages and played with assurance.

But in a season without Meads Cup semifinals, missing the bonus point and making just a small positive differential in a game which on paper which should have been clear-cut remains a worry.

“Very stop-start. Discipline wasn’t where it should be and we talked about that before the game,” said coach Jason Caskey.

“When you’re giving them away, you can’t get a roll-on.

“First half, into the wind, usually we can get into the game, but we didn’t let it happen, giving away penalties.

“You don’t get more than 2-3 phases . It’s just tight.”

After choosing Lane as man of the match, he had also been happy with the maturity of Robinson.

“There was some good things, just not as many, probably, as there should be.

“But Wairarapa Bush were a bit disappointed in themselves after last week against South Canterbury – they’re a better team than they’ve been showing.”

Campbell Hart paid tribute to his clubmate Tutauha, who went deep into the game before handing off to debutant Jack van Bussel.

“There might be a bit of a fine for a grubber kick over the tryline.

“Both him and Lindsay have given a lot for this jersey. In the modern Heartland, 75 [games] is probably the new 100, so it’s a massive achievement.”

The skipper was also unhappy with the lack of momentum the side could generate, either by defenders hands or the dreaded whistle.

“I don’t know if that’s us making errors or just how the referee was seeing the rucks or whatever.

“It seemed to be, from my impression, that we weren’t doing our jobs in turns of cleaning out – we talk about too much daylight – so there’s that and then silly ones that just let the pressure off.

“We need to get better in that area. It was the same problem last week and we can’t go further in this competition if we can’t sort the problem out.”

It was a rough start for the home side to lose the kickoff, with Wairarapa Bush getting two penalty chances, as first-five Sam Morison slotted the second in the seventh minute.

With no side making further traction in the opening quarter, even when the visitors lost No8 Joseva Tako to the sinbin, Whanganui got caught out by one of 2021’s new rules – the 50m to 20m kick.

After second-five Tafa Tafa put his chip into the attacking corner, Wairarapa Bush rushed up to take the spare ball from the ballboy and fire in a quick lineout for centre Tristan Flutey to score.

Morison missed the conversion, but just a couple of minutes later Whanganui’s backs were caught offside and Falanikoi slotted an excellent 47m penalty for 11-0 in the 26th minute.

Now in a spot of trouble, and unhappy with some of the infringements going against them, Whanganui did get their composure together , plus a couple of referee calls in their favour, to drive from the attacking lineout with Tutauha at the back to score right on halftime.

The second half started in identical fashion – a penalty into the corner for Lane to secure the lineout and the team to drive for Tutauha to again dive under the bodies – with Robinson making a good conversion for 12-11.

But it would be another quarter before another opportunity could be taken, as Hart remembered the win was needed before four tries, and had Robinson slot a penalty in front in the 63rd minute.

 A Wairarapa Bush spill in their own half opened up the door and Lane charged through it – running off a great offload by Robinson and then beating one cover tackle before being brought down just short – the ball fired wide for Jamie Hughes to score untouched in the corner.

Robinson slotted an excellent conversion for 22-11, but Whanganui would never get close enough in the last ten minutes for the bonus point try, as Wairarapa Bush received the last three penalties of the game to stay on attack for Falanikoi to finally burst through on fulltime.

Steelform Whanganui 22 (Roman Tutauha 2, Jamie Hughes tries; Ethan Robinson pen, 2 con) bt Wairarapa Bush 18 (Tristan Flutey, Moomoo Falanikoi tries; Falanikoi pen, con, Sam Morison con). HT: 11-5 Wairarapa Bush.

Provisional Standings

2021 Heartland Championship Table
Pos.#
Team
P
W
L
D
Bpts
F
A
+/-
Pts
1
South Canterbury
6
6
0
0
6
276
83
+193
30
2
Thames Valley
6
6
0
0
4
214
98
+116
28
3
Steelform Whanganui
6
4
2
0
4
206
110
+96
20
4
North Otago
6
4
2
0
4
172
148
+24
20
5
Mid Canterbury
6
4
2
0
4
182
163
+19
20
6
Horowhenua-Kapiti
6
4
2
0
3
144
149
-05
18
7
Poverty Bay
6
3
3
0
5
201
159
+42
17
8
West Coast
6
2
4
0
5
140
159
-19
12
9
Ngāti Porou East Coast
6
1
5
0
6
177
211
-34
10
10
Wairarapa Bush
6
2
4
0
2
106
183
-77
10
11
Buller
6
0
6
0
2
109
276
-167
02
12
King Country
6
0
6
0
1
93
281
-188
01
*TIEBREAKERS:
1. Head to head result.
2. Points differential.
3. Tries scored.
4. Points scored.
5. Coin toss.