WAIRARAPA-BUSH moved into the all-important top four of the points table when they thrashed East Coast 45-5 in their Heartland championship rugby match at Ruatoria on Saturday, but a place in the Meads Cup semifinals is still far from guaranteed.
For that to happen Wairarapa-Bush might very well have to pick up the maximum 5pts (four for a win and a bonus for scoring four or more tries) when they host third-placed Wanganui at Memorial Park, Masterton, in the last of the preliminary round games next weekend. Anything less and they could find themselves being supplanted by either, or both, of Horowhenua-Kapiti and North Otago and being part of the second-tier Lochore Cup semifinals instead.
Horowhenua-Kapiti are currently level pegging with them on 22pts, while North Otago are just 4pts in arrears.
It can be argued, of course, that whatever occurs next Saturday the 2015 season has already brought significant improvement for Wairarapa-Bush as they have now chalked up four wins, three more than they managed in last year’s Heartland campaign, when they had only East Coast behind them on the competition table.
Their latest success was widely anticipated with East Coast again being the cellar dwellers in the championship but, at the same time, East Coast themselves had shown enough improvement in their previous two games to suggest an upset victory on their home turf could not altogether be discounted.
The dominance of Wairarapa-Bush, who led 22-5 at halftime, is evidenced by the fact that, whereas they managed to run in six tries, East Coast registered only the one in reply.
Three of the Wairarapa-Bush tries came from backs Paul Tikomainavalu, Viliama Hala and Tipene Haira and three from forwards Matt Kawana, Andrew Makalio and So’otala Fa’oso’o. Skipper and first-five Tim Priest added three penalties and three conversions.
For coach Josh Syms the most pleasing feature of the Wairarapa-Bush performance was their ability to retain a structure to their play against opposition which had an “attack from everywhere” approach.
“It would have been easy to fall into the trap of copying them but we focused on doing the basics well and it paid dividends,” Syms said.
“In essence it was a pretty good all-round effort.”
Outstanding for Wairarapa-Bush up front was prop Kurt Simmonds who not only scrummaged powerfully but was his team’s best defender in close quarter situations.
Loosie John McFadzen also made a big impact with his powerful surges when he came off the bench to replace the injured Brendan Campbell on the flank. Halfback Cody Whittaker was impressive in the backs, as were Paul Tikomainavalu, Viliami Hala and the strong tackling Andy Humbverstone.
The big surprise in other Heartland matches played on Saturday was the 47-43 defeat of the previously unbeaten Mid-Canterbury by Horowhenua-Kapiti, who just seven days earlier had taken a decent beating at the hands of Wairarapa-Bush. Both teams ran in six tries, with Teegan Minkley scoring four for Horowhenua-Kapiti.
South Canterbury flexed their muscles with a 58-21 thumping of North Otago and Wanganui warmed up for their big game against Wairarapa-Bush this coming Saturday with a 55-23 beating of Poverty Bay. There is plenty at stake in the Masterton match for Wanganui too as the maximum 5pts could earn them a home Meads Cup semifinal. King Country ended West Coast’s Meads Cup aspirations by defeating them 36-22 and Buller had a 25-17 win over Thames Valley.
Championship points are: South Canterbury 30, Mid-Canterbury 29, Wanganui 28, Wairarapa-Bush 22, Horowhenua-Kapiti 22, North Otago 18, King Country 16, Buller 16, West Coast 16, Thames Valley 12, Poverty Bay 10 and East Coast 2. The draw for the last round of preliminary round games is: Poverty Bay v South Canterbury, Thames Valley v West Coast, Wairarapa-Bush v Wanganui, Horowhenua-Kapiti v Buller, North Otago v Mid-Canterbury, King Country v East Coast.
By Gary Caffell – Wairarapa Times-Age