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Coast fight back but Thames finish strong

You’ve heard it before but it’s the truth.

Despite their 43-15 loss to Thames Valley at the weekend, Ngati Porou East Coast are on the improve in the Heartland Championship and are certainly showing intestinal fortitude.

The Swamp Foxes scored four tries in the opening 22 minutes on a soft Paeroa Domain ground to lead 24-0.

But the Wayne Ensor-coached Coast fought back with tries to their Most Valuable Player and second-five Tawhao Stewart in the 29th minute and captain blindside flanker Hone Haerewa in the 38th to trail 24-10 at the break.

They struck again with a try to left-wing Epeli Lotawa two minutes into the second half to reduce the deficit to 24-15.

The home side were stung into decisive action and raised the tempo.

They crossed for tries in the 50th, 68th and 72nd minutes to complete their 28th win over the Coast in 46 meetings.

“We played well in parts but against a team like Thames Valley, if you give them room, they’ll capitalise,” said Haerewa.

Ensor said they paid an early price for taking 20 minutes to settle.

“But after halftime, our scrum was dominant. We’re in these games; now we just want to win.”

Ensor said Stewart and Lotawa were outstanding and loosehead prop Laman Davies played his finest game for the union.

Thames Valley head coach Matt Bartleet credited the Coast for coming back strongly in the first half.

“They had momentum and confidence and the game hung in the balance.

“We went away from our structure and slipped back into an arm-wrestle with their forwards, playing helter-skelter with their backs.

“Luckily we got back to what we needed to do . . . but the Coast boys are undoubtedly fit this season and have a game-plan well suited to their personnel.”

Thames Valley co-captain Connor McVerry praised fellow lock Sione To’a and right-winger Harry Lafituanai, who scored two tries, for their hard running, and second five-eighth Danny Kayes for his strong defence.

Bartleet named looseheard prop Lance McIntyre as their MVP for his hard, grinding play.

In keeping with the rugby rule of thumb that the best referee is one who goes unnoticed, Bartleet said the game ran as if Auckland referee Angus Mabey “wasn’t there”.

The loss kept the Coast in 12th and bottom place on the table with one competition point.

Their next clash is against ninth-placed King Country at Hatea-a-rangi Domain in Tokomaru Bay.

OUTSTANDING: Ngati Porou East Coast winger Epeli Lotawa, pictured in action against Poverty Bay earlier this year, capped a fine Heartland game against Thames Valley on Saturday with a try. The Coast lost 43-15. Picture by Paul Rickard