Taihape turn on tries when weather gets wild

The sun shines on the black clouds hanging over the domain.

Even when you’re feeling warm, the temperature could drop away.

Like four seasons in one day.

  • Crowded House, 1992.

By Jared Smith

When the storm descended at Memorial Park on Saturday, Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri had Byford’s Readimix Taihape under pressure, but once it cleared, their hopes off an upset had drowned.

Taihape have completed an unbeaten regular season at home, as the best wet-weather forward pack in Tasman Tanning Premier turned a 16-12 halftime deficit into a 59-16 blowout to retain the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield for another fortnight.

After the significant wind had blown away the clouds that soaked the township earlier, leaving blue skies above, a confident Ngamatapouri made hay while the sun shined.

First-five and co-coach Brook Tremayne had the ball on a string with the breeze behind him – playing a smart kicking game and utilising Ngamatapouri’s speedy outside backs with long cut-out passes.

The visitor’s sideline-to-sideline transfer rate was excellent, playing up-tempo and trying to keep Taihape’s vaunted forward pack out of the equation as much as possible.

Centre and former Taihape player Kameli Kuruyabaki, winger Peceli Malanicagi and try-scoring fullback Josaia Bogileka looked to sweep through down either touchline, and when the home side infringed when trying to stop the momentum, Tremayne stepped up to coolly slot three penalties.

However, when they could get some traction and pull the visitors back into the set piece, Taihape’s forwards offered a harbinger of what was to come later in the second half, as black clouds gathered behind the grandstand.

Prop Gabriel Hakaraia would score two tries in the first half and as it got wetter he got hungrier, ultimately finishing with four tries as he rockets up the season’s scorer list.

The rain descended right on halftime and Taihape immediately responded.

First-five Dane Whale, ultimately scoring 19 points, took over where Tremayne left off with pinpoint kicking, while Hakaraia and double try-scoring No8 Ben Whale climbed through slipping tacklers on the carry.

Taihape had the ability to bring on fresh Steelform Whanganui wider-squad loose forwards in Regan Collier and try-scorer Jamie Hughes, while Ngamatapouri, who had a couple of forwards out with Covid-19, could not match that depth.

The home pack, led by lock Matt Brown, moved up swiftly on the slowed Ngamatapouri backs for some bone rattling tackles, while the ball slipping from hand on their returns from Dane Whale’s long kicks proved costly.

Two tighthead scrum wins and domination of the lineout meant Taihape just camped in Ngamatapouri’s half for all but six minutes of the second stanza, raising an unanswered 40 points before the sun returned for the last ten minutes, which was when Hakaraia completed a rare quartet of tries for a front rower.

“It was a 20-30 point wind out there early, so we just had to grind out that first 40, which I thought we did bloody well,” said satisfied coach Tom Wells.

“Once we played with the wind in the right areas, we just stuck to our structures so well.

“So proud of the boys – our carries, our support play – there was a lot of ticker which was good to see.

“The forwards got a roll on, but Dane’s kicking game was spot on. The kick-chase was fantastic, which it has to be against these guys.”

While all of the former Ruapehu players Taihape have picked up this year have contributed well, it is Hakaraia unquestionably who has made the biggest impact – scoring in virtually every game.

“Gabe’s like-for-like, obviously Hadlee [Hay-Horton’s] not here this year. He’s loving his time here and he’s doing a great job, so we’re proud of him,” said Wells.

For Tremayne, it had been a tough afternoon to bear witness that after probably Ngamatapouri’s best half of football this campaign, the momentum literally washed away.

 “Just conditions in that second half. Our shape was quite good in the first half, but we had 4-5 guys pull out with flu before the game,” he said.

“Our bench players probably haven’t played enough rugby to keep our structure, so hopefully they learnt from this and they can be better from it.

“But we just struggled with our structure come that second half, trying to play tight rugby was just not us.

“If we’d known [the weather would turn] from the start of the game, I would have played the first half into the wind when the weather was dry, but we didn’t know that.”

With Taihape struggling to collect the kickoff, Ngamatapouri were straight onto attack and got an infringement penalty – Tremayne playing percentages by taking the kick in front.

Taihape replied when they got traction off the set piece, as fullback Tyler Rogers-Holden collected a loose pass but still nearly snuck through, with a series of recycles near the posts seeing Hakaraia twist through tacklers to dive over.

Ngamatapouri swiftly responded with long passes to each sideline stretching the defence – before flanker Samu Kubunavanua broke free from a midfield ruck, and the ball was transferred wide for Bogileka to fend off the cover and dive in at the corner, which Tremayne converted.

The lead changed hands again as Ben Whale made a couple of hard carries, earning the penalty, and from the lineout, Taihape moved the ball until the pack had the chance to drive at the corner with Hakaraia at the back, making no mistake for 12-10.

But trying to carry out of their half again saw Taihape get isolated in the ruck for Tremayne to boot the challengers back in front, which he followed with another penalty right after a goal-line drop out for the four-point lead on halftime.

However, the rain drops had started – light at first but then bucketing down – and it was like Ngamatapouri were solar-powered while Taihape were hydro.

A missed touch clearance saw Taihape attack through Brown and then Rogers-Holden, before Ben Whale charged off the breakdown to score.

A tighthead scrum loss kept Ngamatapouri pinned in their far corner, and Hakaraia was again the man off the ruck to power his way across with a shunt coming from behind him.

Whale’s sideline kick saw the touch judge flags raised and at 26-16, the visitors heads went down.

Hakaraia made two hard charges from attacking lineout, and once again Ben Whale was next man to drive across, brother Dane again converting with a teammate holding the ball in the wind.

Ngamatapouri were desperate – as a forward pass when spreading from their own tryline and a knock-on for an intercept attempt let Taihape scrummage in perfect position, and finally Dane Whale stepped back inside of cover defenders to score.

Again, lost ball on a kick return proved costly as reserve Taihape halfback James Barrett dashed blindside and cleared a diving tackle to find no other defender nearby – sprinting off to score.

Brown recovered a loose pass to send reserve prop Te Uhi Hakaraia on attack, and after brother Gabriel had yet another crack at the line, Hughes was next man off the ruck to dive over.

Still hunting his quartet, Hakaraia would find it right on fulltime after a penalty tap brought Taihape to the chalk for the dreadlocked prop to score on the blindside.

Taihape 59 (G Hakaraia 4, B Whale 2, D Whale, J Barrett, J Hughes tries; D Whale 7 con) bt Ngamatapouri 16 (J Bogileka try; B Tremayne 3 pen, con). HT: 16-12 Ngamatapouri.