RUGBY - RUA Tipoki capped a man-of-the-match performance with two tries in Ngati Porou East Coast’s nailbiting 20-18 win against Buller in the Heartland Championship clash at Ruatoria on Saturday.
It wasn’t just his two tries that earned Tipoki a five star rating, the Coast assistant coach and No.10 led from the front on attack and defenced with a never-say-die attitude that spread throughout his team.
And that gutsy determination was rewarded when Irish import fullback John Semple kicked a pressure penalty with 10 minutes remaining to put the Coast in front for the first time in the game.
Buller had two long-range penalty attempts to deny the Coast victory but fullback Willie Banks failed with both.
A strong swirling wind blowing all over Whakarua Park made for a forward dominated game and from the kick-off — with the Coast playing into the wind — Tipoki set the scene for a memorable game.
The first time the skipper touched the ball he charged straight into the oncoming Buller defenders, knocking two over, before going to ground and setting the ball up for the next phase. But while the Coast controlled the ball and territory in the opening 20 minutes, Buller took the lead through a Banks penalty in the 28th minute. Coast No.8 Morgan Wirepa junior was sinbinned for tripping Banks as he raced along the sideline
The lead lasted a minute as the Coast forwards Tripoli Poi, Ngarimu Simpkins, Ziggy Fisihoi, Everard Reid, Pakanui Webb, Tanetoa Parata and Brent Ingram laid the platform for Tipoki’s first try.
“Our forwards laid the platform for the win, they dominated the physical exchanges and, as a back, when you see that it gives you a lift,” Tipoki said.
“And when you can take front line forwards off and bring on guys like Mahue Dewes and Kerehama Blackman with no disruption to the side it speaks volumes for the forwards.”
Pound for pound the former New Zealand Maori midfield, Tipoki, is one of the hardest players in the country but he admitted he had a tear in his eye during the minute silence for Coast stalwart Jimmy Aupouri whose funeral was on Monday.
“We wanted to beat South Canterbury for Jimmy last week but I think the emotion was too much for the players so we really wanted to do it for Jimmy, Gina and the family this weekend.
“It was good that we could honour him here on the Coast, his community where he did so much and not just around rugby.”
If Tipoki took the five-star award, abrasive loosie-cum-prop Fisihoi, classy lock Reid, Wirepa, determined to make up for his 10 minutes in the bin and player-coach and hooker Simpkins were not far behind, with their pack colleagues also earning their stripes.
Although not a game for the backs, Simpkins’ decision to start experienced campaigner Marty Lloyd at second five was a resounding success.
Lloyd revelled in the energy sapping and tricky conditions.
Along with young centre Pomare Samupo, who scored a second-half try, Lloyd formed a formidable midfield combination.
The back three, wingers TK Moeke and Verdon Bartlett and fullback John Semple had little opportunites to show their attacking skills but all three made valuable contributions to the win. Halfback Charlie Harrison, who missed last week’s loss to South Canterbury, was another star performer, driving his forwards on and delivering crisp accurate ball from the base of the scrum. Harrison was replaced by former Gisborne Boys’ High player Sam Parkes and the youngster showed he is going to keep Harrison on his toes with an energetic last 20 minutes.
The Coast trailed 13-5 at halftime but closed the gap within five minutes of the restart with Samupo’s first Heartland try for the Sky Blues.
‘”Once we got inside close to the line Pomare told me he wanted the ball to go one on one and you saw what happened, he just barrelled the guy out of the way and scored,” said Tipoki.
But Buller, who like the Coast, played better into the wind, hit back five minutes later with a good try to centre Trael Joass to open an eight-point lead.
“Buller played well but we still felt we could win, it was just a matter of staying composed.”
Tipoki’s second try was similar to his first when he took two defenders over the line with him. Semple’s conversion reduced the deficit to one point before Semple had the final say.
Despite the tricky conditions his kick never looked like missing, showing the value of having a reliable goalkicker on board.
The win moved the Coast into fifth spot on the table.