RUGBY - LIKE rams to the slaughter . . . that was the King Country side who were on the receiving end of a 56-24 thumping by a fired-up Ngati Porou East Coast at Whakarua Park on Saturday.
The 10-tries-to-four win, coupled with Wairarapa Bush’s loss to North Otago, moved the Coast into second spot on the Heartland Championship table
With one game remaining before the top-four playoffs, a bonus-point victory over Poverty Bay here on Saturday will seal a Meads Cup top-four home semi.
“That would be awesome but even though the Bay have not been performing as well as Grainger (Heikell, Bay coach) would have liked this season, this is a local derby,” Coast player-coach Ngarimu Simpkins said.
“There’s no way we’ll underestimate them but it is good that we have set up the possibility of a home semi.”
As they have done in recent matches, the Sky Blues took the lead in the opening minutes with a try to first five-eighth John Semple. The move started when Coast blindside flanker Tanetoa Parata fielded the kick-off close to the left-wing touchline. Parata, who had his best game of the season, charged 30 metres upfield then the ball was spread to the left wing. A King Country knock-on led to a scrum just outside the 22. Halfback Charlie Harrison passed to left winger TK Moeke, who offloaded to Semple on the burst.
“We talked about starting strongly and staying strong,” said Simpkins.
To a man his players followed his instructions. By the 23rd minute the Coast led 24-0 and had secured a four-try bonus point through additional tries to fullback Verdon Bartlett, centre Pomare Samupo and right winger Whaimotu Craft-Chemis.
It was a tremendous display of attacking rugby, with forwards and backs combining superbly in extremely tricky windy conditions.
“That was Maori rugby at its best but it was also a disciplined performance, and I was really proud of the boys today,” coach Ngarimu Simpkins said.
Semple stretched the gap to 29-0 with his second try in the 28th minute as the Coast threatened to run riot.
King Country regrouped and closed the gap in the 35th minute with the first of three tries to fullback Paul Olsen.
Three minutes later Olsen dotted down again and the teams went to the changing rooms with the Coast up 29-12.
Despite Simpkins ringing the changes, including taking himself off, the Coast started the second spell the way they began the first with a try shortly after the restart. King County claimed the kick-off and sent a clearing punt deep into Coast territory where Moeke was waiting.
The hard-running winger sliced his way through would-be tacklers in a run up the middle. When tackled, he passed to lock Everard Reid who quickly moved the ball on to a rampaging Ziggy Fisihoi, who scored in the corner.
Simpkins continued to make changes and as the reserves were adjusting to the pace of the game, King County left winger Dean Church finished off a counterattack from turnover ball.
Any thoughts of a revival were dispelled when Reid replied with a try from the restart.
Semple took full advantage of the wind that made kicking and catching a nightmare when he booted the ball straight down the middle of the pitch.
As the ball bounced and bobbled towards the uprights, King Country were at sixes and sevens. Coast skipper and second five Rua Tipoki pounced and passed to Reid, who transferred the ball to replacement left winger Mike King. He was hauled down just short of the line but Reid was on hand to score.
Back came King County with Olsen capping a solid game with his third try.
The Coast, though had the final say — three of them actually — with tries to openside flanker Brent Ingram, replacement halfback Sam Parkes — his first in a Coast jersey — and Fisihoi, who shared the man-of-the-match honours with Ingram.
Although Semple kicked only three conversions from 10 tries, nearly all his attempts were from the touchline.
A number of kicks were on target only to been blown away and, on one occasion, back towards him.
Such was the Coast’s dominance, Simpkins was able to replace his assistant coach and captain with 20 minutes remaining . “It was good to be able to give all the boys a run today.”
NPEC 56 (Ziggy Fisihoi 2, John Semple 2, Verdon Bartlett, Pomare Samupo, Whaimotu Craft-Chemis, Everard Reid, Brent Ingram, Sam Parkes tries; Semple 3 con).
KING COUNTRY 24 (Paul Olsen 3, Dean Church tries; Sean Cressy con, Kurt Strachan con).