WELCOME to Whakarua Park . . . but don’t expect to win.
That should be the sign at Ngati Porou East Coast’s rugby headquarters at Ruatoria after the Sky Blues produced their best performance of the season to end Wanganui’s unbeaten Heartland Championship 25-17 on Saturday.
Not so long ago the Coast were the easybeats of the Heartland competition. They have not lost at home since the new coaching duo of Ngarimu Simpkins and Rua Tipoki took over at the start of last season.
On Saturday they outscored Wanganui’s “Butcher Boys” three tries to two in a game that was never as close as the scoreline suggests.
Inspired by a pack in which lock Everard Reid was kingpin, the Coast forwards dominated their opposites for most of the 80 minutes.
The backs revelled in front-foot ball served on a plate and alarm bells rang ring every time they attacked — especially in the first 40 minutes.
The scene was set within the first 60 seconds. Wanganui kicked off and hooker Simpkins called “my ball” 10 metres in from the right touchline and 15m out from his 22. Simpkins charged full steam ahead into the first wave of dark blue jerseys, bumping two aside before passing to powerhouse prop Ziggy Fisihoi, who barged his way to the halfway line.
First five-eighth John Semple joined the attack with a 10m burst into Wanganui territory.
Skipper and second five Rua Tipoki wanted some of the action. In typical Tipoki style he took on the defence then released lively fullback Verdon Bartlett with a perfectly-weighted pass.
Bartlett drew his man and offloaded to big-striding left winger TK Moeke, who pinned back his ears and scored in the corner.
Semple converted and the Coast led 7-0 . . . what a start! Wanganui were stunned and more was soon to come
Nine minutes later, Tipoki turned down a certain three points from a penalty, opting instead to kick for touch and go for maximum points.
From the lineout the Coast were awarded a scrum 10m from the tryline. No. 8 Morgan Wirepa junior broke off the back and fed halfback Charlie Harrison, who quickly transferred the ball to Semple, on to centre Pomare Samupo, then back into Fisihoi to crash across the line.
Semple missed the conversion but made amends with a penalty in the 21st minute for a 15-0 lead.
A relentless Coast continued to attack from all parts of the ground.
Semple stretched the gap to 18-0 with his second penalty kick before Wanganui finally got on the board from a Mark Davis penalty in the 38th minute.
“Before the game we asked the boys to leave everything on the paddock and at halftime I asked them if they believed we could win this game,” Simpkins said. “To a man they all said yes.”
Wanganui coach Jason Caskey wasted no time in making changes and after 13 minutes of the second spell, right winger Simon Dibben reduced the lead with a try, converted by Davis.
For the next 20 minutes it was the Coast’s turn to defend. That was when Reid stepped up, stealing three successive Wanganui lineout throws midway inside the Coast’s half.
These wins were huge in the context of the game and when Coast right winger Whaimotu Craft-Chemis finished off a barnstorming run from openside flanker Brent Ingram, the supporters began to believe this was going to be their day.
Semple all but nailed the coffin lid shut with a conversion from the sideline, meaning Wanganui had to score three times to win.
It was never going to happen as Simpkins and his boys defended as though their lives depended on it, none more so than Ingram, who, with five minutes remaining, launched a thundering hit which forced a turnover and resulted in the ball being cleared downfield.
The Coast defensive line was broken in the 78th minute when centre Saul Chase scored but it was too little, too late.
Man of the match could have gone to any number of Coast players. For this reporter it was Reid, followed closely by Ingram and Fisihoi.
Tipoki saw it differently and fair enough.
“I’m reluctant to single out anyone but Tripoli Poi (prop), Ngarimu and Ziggy set the tone,” Tipoki said.
“Wanganui have been bullying teams up front for years and when you see the physicality that Tripoli, Nga and Ziggy brought today you can’t help but follow.
“The whole pack stood up and it made our jobs as backs easier. Everyone, from one to 15, stepped up and the boys on the bench did their bit — helping with the preparation and through their encouragement during the game.”
Despite the win the Coast actually dropped to fifth on the table. They were leapfrogged by Buller after the southerners’ bonus-point 45-32 win over South Canterbury.
The Coast face Thames Valley in Paeroa this weekend.
NGATI POROU EAST COAST 25 (TK Moeke, Ziggy Fisihoi, Whaimotu Craft-Chemis tries; John Semple 2 con, 2 pen).
WANGANUI 17 (Simon Dibbon, Saul Chase tries; Mark Davis 2 con, pen).
HT: 18-3 (Coast).