Pushing their luck to the limit, Horowhenua Kapiti held out Wairarapa Bush in the final moments to claim the Heartland Lochore Cup 26-23 in another finals thriller at Levin Domain on Sunday.
Having regained the lead with seven minutes remaining, Horowhenua Kapiti made the dangerous decision to attempt to close down the game by playing a pick-and-go shutout. But the concession of a penalty for going over the top breathed life into Wairarapa Bush’s hopes.
They kicked deep into Horowhenua Kapiti’s territory and then attempted to work there way to victory only to have the ball stolen in a desperate goalline scramble which allowed the home team to clear the ball and achieve themselves the perfect present for their 125th anniversary season.
It was only the second title they had won in that time, the earlier occasion in 1993 being the launching pad of All Black Carlos Spencer’s career.
Horowhenua Kapiti put local knowledge to advantage, especially through first five-eighths James So’oialo, whose 122 points over the season saw him finish top points scorer in the competition. He used the trailing wind to effect in the first half pinning Wairarapa Bush back in their own 22m area.
He was also accurate in landing penalty goals in the 3rd, 10th and 16th minutes.
But when home centre Timoci Serawalu attempted to crash through the defence he had the ball ripped off him by wing Soli Malatai and he had an unchallenged 80m run to the line in the 19th minute.
Horowhenua Kapiti continued to play to the corner and when deciding not to kick for goal from a penalty in the 30th minute, they won a lineout to launch a drive at the line where flanker Aaron Lahmert was able to get over for the try.
Frustrated by having second five-eighths Michael Lealeva’a held up over the line, just on halftime, Wairarapa Bush came back out after the break and picked up where they left off courtesy of a handy chargedown.
That saw fullback Inia Katia break into the 22m where Malatai unleashed his footwork to get closer to the line and it was prop Sam Gammie who took the ball from the breakdown to charge over close to the posts for the try.
Three consecutive penalty goals to Haira carried Wairarapa Bush to a 23-19 lead in the 63rd minute. But from the restart the ball was allowed to bounce and second five-eighths Leon Ellison was onto it to give his side some overdue momentum.
It was carried on by Serawalu who got close to the line and while Wairarapa Bush did well to win a turnover scrum from the maul, they were shunted off the ball by the home team.
But they couldn’t clear the ball and while a penalty was awarded, and the ball tapped, desperate Wairarapa Bush defence kept the home team out. Two more scrums and another tap penalty resulted before finally it was replacement hooker David McErlan scored with eight minutes left.
Scorers: Horowhenua Kapiti 26 (Aaron Lahmert, David McErlean tries; James So’oialo 2 con, 4 pen)
Wairarapa Bush 23 (Soli Malatai, Sam Gammie tries; Tipene Haira 2 con, 3 pen)