By Jared Smith
Physical – that is the one word to describe Steelform Whanganui’s second preseason hit out against Hawke’s Bay Development XV, who held out for a scoreless second half to win 14-7 at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.
However, given an understrength Whanganui lost this fixture 36-12 in Napier last year, likewise against a side fielding the Magpies wider squad members who were not playing NPC that afternoon, Whanganui coach Jason Caskey was feeling very encouraged about the effort, following on from a full day’s training camp on Friday.
“Really good, happy, it’s what we needed to see against a good team, it’s a fair gauge of where we’re at.
“Realistically, we made some changes in player numbers, that were more changes than you’d want to make [to win the game], and it probably upsets your rhythm a little bit.
“They got through a fair bit of work yesterday too, so they’ll be tired.”
Looking for the converted try to deadlock the game in the second half with the wind behind them, Whanganui still rotated players around positions, including three halfbacks, so lacked for a little continuity at times and made some costly errors when camped in their opposition’s half.
“But you need game time, and guys need an opportunity to have a run,” said Caskey.
“Some really good stuff, the first 15-20 I thought was outstanding – the ball retention, the discipline, their handling was good.
“[Hawke’s Bay] didn’t have the ball basically, for close to 20 minutes.”
Going into the wind, try-scoring No8 Semi Vodosese and centre Kameli Kuruyabaki cut imposing figures with ball in hand, while fullback Ezra Malo produced some incisive darts and offloads, and speedy winger Peceli Malanicagi was a handful on his rare chances.
Flanker Kieran Hussey kept up an impressive workload, while after the momentum turned, he and hooker Dylan Gallien were solid on defence.
But Hawke’s Bay eventually got some traction up the field as penalties crept into Whanganui’s game, and two tries in the space of five minutes shortly before the break proved decisive.
Turning to take the wind, Whanganui had the better of territory after the opening 10 minutes when Hawke’s Bay pressured them, but struggled to find a way through as the visitors worked their way out of the danger zone with professional ball control.
The home side wanted to make attacking penalty scrums their bread-and-butter, trying to spread quickly to dash away from Hawke’s Bay’s big forwards.
However, when Vodosese or veteran halfback Lindsay Horrocks would look for a clean pickup at the base, the Bay’s final shunt or the spoiling hands of their reserve halfback Trent Hape would cause half-a-second’s hesitation or fumble, and the impetus would be lost.
“I think, in the end we were struggling a bit. We probably should have stayed [bound] and Lindsay cleared off the back,” said Caskey.
“We were trying to play No8 to No9, and when you’re under pressure, as soon as your No8 takes his head out of the scrum, that’s 100kg off [the push] and you’re in trouble.
“It’s a learning curve, that if we’re losing that scrum battle a little bit like that, then No9’s got to clear from the base himself.”
In some other noteworthy plays, prop Viki Tofa was a late inclusion to the starting XV and produced some nice offloads and caretaker halfback passes around the breakdown, while after playing some of the Whanganui Maori fixture, lock Josefa Rokotakala came on to make a series of strong tackles.
Flanker Ben Whale and halfback-turned fullback Tyler Rogers-Holden worked hard to create opportunities.
A strong run by Whale brought his side into range after a shallow Hawke’s Bay clearance, then a signature long pass from captain Dane Whale found Kuruyabaki, with Hussey hit quite high by the cover defence to save the try.
However, Whanganui recycled to make the line, and Vodosese eventually went through the breakdown to dive over, with Dane Whale converting in the 10th minute.
Despite the strong start, Whanganui let momentum slop as penalties and errors had them back inside their own 50m late in the half, and after an attacking scrum, Hawke’s Bay transferred left to right, as fullback Paora Manuel produced a nice ball over the top of his marker for winger Majella Tufunga to bump out of a tackle and score.
First-five Jayden Falcon raised the flags from near touch, and after his forwards trapped Whanganui at the breakdown, the first-five looked to the sideline for a close range lineout.
Expertly, Hawke’s Bay took the ball in and extra backs ran in to help the drive and get hooker Dom Devine over for 14-7 in the 39th minute.
Whanganui were still confident as they took the breeze in the second half, but Hawke’s Bay showed patience and control to hold the ball for key periods, while pressuring their hosts after turnovers to make sure they could not capitalise and score an equaliser.
Hawke’s Bay Development 14 (M Tufunga, D Devine tries; J Falcon 2 con) bt Whanganui 7 (S Vodosese try; D Whale con). HT: 14-7.