Wairarapa-Bush suffered a heartbreaking last-gasp loss to Poverty Bay in the opening round of the Heartland Championship in Gisborne on Saturday.
Wairarapa-Bush had dominated the match in patches, and found themselves leading 22-17 with 10 minutes left to go.
But two late tries – including one from 40m out in the dying moments – propelled the home team to a 27-22 win.
Wairarapa-Bush coach Joe Harwood said his players were understandably devastated by the result, but he could not have asked for more from the playing group.
“It was just one of those things – we were defending hard for the last 10 minutes and they scored twice in the last few minutes to win it.
“The boys were pretty disappointed but it’s important they hold their heads up high because they chucked everything at it and there were opportunities in the second half but we didn’t nail a couple of things.”
Wairarapa-Bush had opened the scoring when winger Tristan Flutey crossed for a try, but Poverty Bay hit back twice to take a 14-5 lead.
A try to hooker Nick Hohepa from a rolling maul ensured Wairarapa-Bush would go into halftime with some momentum, but still trailing 12-14.
Early in the second half Wairarapa-Bush struck again when first five-eighth Glen Walters scored, but they weren’t able to put enough distance on the scoreboard between themselves and Poverty Bay.
Harwood said their execution would need to improve at important moments.
“We had them on the back foot and under pressure but couldn’t finish it off.
“Our execution wasn’t quite at the level it needed to be and that allowed them to come back into the game.”
Harwood was happy with his team’s efforts with the ball in hand, and said the set piece had functioned well for most of the match.
There were positives they could take from the match, and that was something he would be reiterating to the team this week.
“For 70 minutes, I thought we were the better team out on the field, but it’s just a matter of nailing the small things.
“There are massive positives to take into this week, we just need to get the boys up and do everything right to get the win next week.”
Wairarapa-Bush will play their first home game this Saturday, against Thames Valley at Memorial Park in Masterton [2pm].
Poverty Bay 27 Wairarapa-Bush 22
King Country 75 East Coast 17
Mid Canterbury 30 Horowhenua-Kapiti 24
North Otago 30 Buller 24
West Coast 27 Thames Valley 25
Wanganui 21 South Canterbury 10