THE EXCELLENCE of their set piece play highlighted Wairarapa-Bush’s 33-19 beating of Horowhenua-Kapiti in their Heartland championship rugby match, played at Memorial Park, Masterton on Saturday.
Desperately needing a win to stay in contention for the Meads Cup playoffs, the home team chalked up their first victory on the artificial turf before a disappointingly small crowd with their most convincing performance of the 2015 season.
It was the dominance of the forwards in the scrums and lineouts which laid the perfect platform for their latest success.
Under the mentoring of a former Wairarapa-Bush skipper in Joe Harwood, the scrum has become one of their main attacking weapons and, through all of the first half and most of the second, the Horowhenua-Kapiti pack were under huge pressure from them in that important department.
Not only did that provide Wairarapa-Bush with quality front foot ball on their own put ins but it also meant Horowhenua-Kapiti were able to make scant progress when they had the feed.
Rookie prop Matt Kawana was the subject of many pats on the back from his Wairarapa-Bush teammates for his contribution to their scrum effort and the return from injury of experienced Kurt Simmonds was also a major plus.
There was a lot to admire too about the accuracy of the Wairarapa-Bush lineout play. Hooker Andrew Makalio consistently found his targets and James Goodger, James Wall and Lachie McFadzean all made a number of clean takes. Horowhenua-Kapiti, on the other hand, often struggled to make their lineout throws count, with poor communication appearing to be the main problem.
It was not only in the set pieces that the Wairarapa-Bush forwards were a dominant force, they also impressed with their mobility in broken play where No8 So’otala Fa’oso’o, flankers Goodger and Brendon Campbell and, as usual, hooker Makalio were all in their element. It has probably been said a hundred times already over the past few weeks, but most backs in the Heartland competition would love to have the attacking flair of Makalio, who scored two of his team’s four tries.
The Wairarapa-Bush backs relished the amount of quality possession given them by the forwards and clearly had the “wood” on a Horowhenua-Kapiti rearguard which came to Masterton with a big reputation but actually made little impact on proceedings. Halfback Cody Whittaker and Tim Priest varied their play intelligently, midfielders Andy Humberstone and Matt Dalley were assertive both on attack and defence, wings Paul Tikomainavalu and Corey McFadzean ran with purpose and tackled solidly, and fullback Viliami Hala was both nippy and thrustful on the counter-attack.
Horowhenua-Kapiti, for their part, would have expected much better than they produced. They did look dangerous in the opening stanzas, running in an early try for a 5-0 lead, but otherwise they were outgunned by opposition playing with greater intensity in virtually all areas of the game. Their best individuals were flanker Antony Fox and second-five Manaia Osborne.
Andrew Makalio (2), James Wall and Nick Olson scored tries for Wairarapa-Bush, with Tim Priest kicking three penalties and two conversions. Manaia Osborne, Ha’amea Ahio and Antony Fox were the Horowhenua-Kapiti try scorers and Brandyn Laursen kicked two conversions.
In other Heartland matches played on Saturday, West Coast beat East Coast 22-10, Wanganui defeated Thames Valley 47-27, South Canterbury beat King Country 42-14, North Otago edged out Buller 35-34 and Mid-Canterbury beat Poverty Bay 38-27.
Unofficial competition points: Mid-Canterbury 27, South Canterbury 25, Wanganui 23, North Otago 18, Wairarapa-Bush and Horowhenua-Kapiti 17, West Coast 16, Buller, King Country and Thames Valley 11, Poverty Bay 10 and East Coast 2.
Wairarapa-Bush play East Coast at Ruatoria next Saturday and will complete their preliminary round play with a match against Wanganui at Masterton the following weekend.
By Gary Caffell – Wairarapa Times-Age