Kaierau pay back Marist to get back in Top 4

First, you fight with your head.

Then you fight with your heart.

  • Leonidas and Gorgo, 300 (2006)

By Jared Smith

After three weeks preparing for it and with their season on the line, Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau refused to falter in their 32-19 payback victory over Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist on Saturday.

Flipping the 41-10 smashing at the Country Club on May 7, Kaierau at their best have a hive mind on offence, where the group is thinking 2-3 phases ahead and setting up multiple players moving together to create openings with technique and execution.

And after scratching around for five games, a refreshed lineup delivered on all accounts in the opening 30 minutes, a shocked Marist having no answer at 22-0 down.

Knowing they needed a big game against Marist’s bigger athletic props Keightley Watson and Marc Ouellet, Kaierau’s Jack van Bussel and fired up try-scorer Tai Pulemagafa got the momentum, while birthday boy first-five Cody Hemi did plenty of work on attack and cover defence.

Playing his finest match of 2022, No8 Joe Edwards took it upon himself to make the big yards up the middle – he had no idea how important that would later prove.

However, the home side plays their style of game with Celtic passion, and led by their big front-rowers, as well as scrappy hooker Jack Yarrall, who also picked up a yellow card, enforcer lock Lake Ah-Chong and unbreakable skipper Brad Graham, Marist clawed their way back into the match to trail by ten at halftime.

Kaierau’s desperation on their line in the face of waves of forward smashes saw the penalties mount, and it appeared they had met their Waterloo with 18 minutes to go after both reserve flanker Stu Brosnahan and then lock Matt Ashworth were sinbinned for professional fouls on either side of a Marist penalty try, with Ashworth now gone permanently after a previous yellow card right before halftime.

In the first round of games, it was the last ten minutes against both Marist and Settler’s Honey Ngamatapouri that Kaierau fell apart – conceding three tries in each match.

But despite being reduced to 13 men, Kaierau’s leaders stepped up.

Edwards made surge after surge to clear the advantage line, and when Kaierau trapped Marist in the ruck some 40m out, Ethan Robinson made a captain’s decision to take back the goal kicking from youngster Brook Herewini.

Despite landing only 1-4 previously, Robinson nailed the long range shot to re-establish a 13-point buffer, while eating up the rest of the clock before Brosnahan could return.

Desperate, Marist threw everything at Kaierau for the last seven minutes, hoping for at least another try to bring in two priceless bonus points.

However, costly dropped ball in the face of committed Kaierau defence left them wanting, now sitting outside the Top 4 with one remaining game at home against Ngamatapouri in a fortnight.

“We’ve made it a little bit tougher for ourselves today. We just gave them too much of a lead at the start and it was always going to be hard playing catch-up rugby,” said Marist coach Travers Hopkins.

“For a lot of that game, the boy’s played pretty bloody well, but when you give 22-0 for a start, you can’t give any team that.

“Credit to Kaierau, they came out fizzing. They had good reason to.”

Proud of the fight-back, Hopkins will have to address the lost possessions on third and fourth phases, although the side was unquestionably missing their spine at No9-10 with Rory Gudsell not playing and Rangi Kui recovering from a neck injury.

“ I was talking to the coaches on the sideline and it just felt like we were working really hard, doing a lot of good things and then it would be just a loose pass, or a knock on, or a penalty would just go against it,” said Hopkins.

For Kaierau co-coach Tony McBride, there was double pride – the side playing to their potential in the first quarter, and then with courage in the face of adversity during the last.

 “The discipline’s still something that we’re going to have to work on, especially around the ruck area.

“We’ve talked a lot about it at training that once the ruck is set up to just leave it alone, we’re just getting over anxious and getting our hands in there because we’re so desperate.

“They stuck to the plans for the first 20 – kept the intensity up, lot of communication, guys working off the ball – which is our key word this year, that urgency.”

McBride agreed Edwards was the standout – his will to win undeniable.

“I think all of the leaders really stepped up today in that team. He had a strong game, the best he’s played all season.

“I think Jack [van Bussel] really shored up in the scrimmaging area. The scrum, besides one, was pretty even, and we worked on that at training quite a bit.

“But also Pinky [lock Josh Lane] again, he got hurt right at the beginning, and he just carried on playing all the way through – that was great to see as well.”

Other standouts were Hemi, Herewini, and reserve lock Mason Johnson – one of three players who dashed over from the Senior game at the Country Club to get on for the last 10 minutes.

Getting an early penalty, Kaierau trapped Marist near their line, and when Edwards charged down a clearing kick, everyone was onside and Lane was right there to pick up the treats and score.

Another penalty set up a lineout attack, seeing winger Harry Unsworth come into the midfield on a set play, followed by flanker Tyrone Kemp on the next phase with backup right alongside him.

It had the effect of pulling Marist defenders away from the breakdown, and Pulemagafa made them pay as he ran right through the open gap to score.

Yarrall’s sinbinning and Kaierau free kick, with a bonus 10m for Marist backchat, saw the home side in their danger zone again, and after lead-up work from Lane, hooker Kohlt Coveny and Pulemagafa, Kaierau spread to the far sideline and centre Dillon Adrole ran hard before offloading in the tackle for Unsworth to score in the corner.

A long Unsworth run brought Kaierau back on attack, and although his pass fell to the cover defenders, Kaierau’s loose forwards trapped them at the breakdown for a penalty lineout.

After Adrole attacked the midfield, a rapid transfer back to the far side saw flanker Tyrone Kemp dive into score under a heap of diving bodies and a flying corner flag.

Needing to play at the right end of the field when they were back to a full XV, Marist looked to their pack to create some momentum and they delivered – Watson leading the charge to bring them into the 22m.

Yarrall, flanker George Forster and No8 Marius Joseph all had a crack at the line, and then Graham dived over the last ruck to plant the ball.

Kaierau then lost Ashworth after a defensive scrum was shoved back for a Marist tighthead and the defenders repeatedly infringed after tap kicks, before finally halfback Junior Nepia found the space off the ruck to score on halftime.

Both sides hunted that next decisive score, and it was Kaierau who secured it in the 54th minute after Marist spilled a battered down lineout ball

Edwards charged off the scrum to bring the attackers right to the posts, Robinson pivoted off his left foot to pulled defenders with him right under the black dot.

But Marist wouldn’t go away – a series of hit-ups by Watson, Graham and others saw Brosnahan depart, and when the home forwards drove from a 10m scrum, Ouellet was impeded from making the final shunt over the chalk and penalty try was given with Ashworth getting the dreaded yellow/red.

But at 29-19 with 13 men, Kaierau dug deep, their reserves from the Senior team coming in to hold the line, and when Marist got trapped at the ruck approaching halfway, Robinson backed himself in the clutch and delivered to lift his side for the final eight minutes.

Kaierau 32 (J Lane, T Pulemagafa, H Unsworth, T Kemp, E Robinson tries; Robinson pen, con, B Herewini con) bt Marist 19 (J Nepia, B Graham tries, penalty try; D Kauika con). HT: 22-12.