RUGBY - NGATI Porou East Coast’s Irish import, John Semple, endeared himself to the Sky Blues fans when he kicked the penalty that earned his side a 20-18 win against Buller on Saturday.
But while it was the boot of Semple in tricky conditions that got the home side home in the Heartland Championship match, it was his tackle on winger William Saukuru with one minute remaining that was the real match-saver.
The Coast, clinging to a two-point lead, were trying to run down the clock by retaining possession when the ball was spilled.
Buller launched a counter-attack from midway inside their half which had the Coast scrambling to cover as the ball was moved quickly from the right wing to the left.
When Fijian Saukuru chopped back 10 metres inside the Coast half, Semple was the man in the firing line.
The choice was simple. Make the tackle, save a try; miss and it was a clear run to the line.
Semple was up to the challenge and saved the day.
If the Coast go on to greater things this season they will look back on this match as the one that kick-started their campaign.
It was not just Semple’s tackle that was a major contribution.
No.8 Morgan Wirepa junior made amends for his sinbinning in the 26th minute when he saved a certain try in the 37th minute.
Two minutes later it was the turn of player-coach Ngarimu Simpkins to stop a Buller attacker in his tracks with a thumping tackle 10m from the line as the visitors piled forward looking to stretch their 13-5 lead.
Had they scored on either of those two occasions it would have been a certain seven points and would have left the Coast with an uphill battle for the last 40 minutes.
Although far from a complete performance, Simpkins was happy with his side’s progress.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “I think some people thought we were already there but the glue is just setting.
“After holding Buller, who are a good side, to just 13 points with the wind at their backs, I think people thought we just had to come out for the second half.
“But I’ve been around the traps too long and knew they would front up playing into the wind, just as we did.”
Simpkins said the challenge now was to back it up with another win — away to Mid Canterbury on Saturday.
“They’ll be tough, especially after getting their first win at the weekend (7-3 against North Otago), but the boys are up for it.”
Simpkins said he was particularly impressed with the form of young blindside flanker Tanetoa Parata, second five-eighth Marty Lloyd, lock Pakanui Webb and loan player Everard Reid from Hawke’s Bay.
“Tanetoa added a lot of pace around the rucks, Marty did everything we asked of him and a bit more, and that’s the sign of a good player.
“Everard (lock) is a class act and Pakanui’s work rate is exceptional.
“He does a lot of work that can go unnoticed by spectators.”