STEFAN Destounis scored three tries on debut as Ngati Porou East Coast ended a 10-year drought with a 26-8 win against LeaderBrand Poverty Bay at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria on Saturday.
The 25-year-old Tokomaru United openside flanker celebrated his first match in a Sky Blues jersey with tries in the third, 55th and 70th minutes. It helped the Coast to their first win in the annual Queen’s Birthday Weekend rugby clash was revived in 2005 and their first victory over their neighbours since September 28, 2013, when they beat Poverty Bay 22-18 in a Heartland Championship clash.
It also gave new co-coaches Troy Para and Wayne Ensor and new skipper Sam Parkes the perfect start to their representative season.
As well as scoring three tries, Destounis played a major role in right-winger Ian Wilson’s try five minutes into the second half.
The Bay had the feed-in to a scrum 10 metres from their own tryline and tried to run the ball off the back of the scrum, only for Destounis to rip the ball free and put Wilson in for a six-pointer to give the Coast a 14-8 lead.
“That was a huge moment for us,” Para said. “The first half was pretty even. We started well, the Bay came back and at 8-all it was anybody’s game.
“Scoring first gave us the momentum we needed and the boys grew in confidence. We wanted a big performance from the forwards and they delivered.”
Great result for hard workEnsor said it was a great result for the hard work the players put in.
“We’ll all enjoy the win but it’s also a reality check that the Heartland Championship is another huge step up,” he said. At halftime we were disappointed that we had made more mistakes than we had done things right. But we were still in the game.
“Joe McClutchie (former Coast coach, who led the Sky Blues to back-to-back third division titles and a place in the second division final) talked to the boys before the game. He spoke about the importance of whakapapa, team culture, playing for each other and never giving up.
“At halftime, Stefan stepped up and said he had another gear in him. Some players just talk the talk but in that second half he walked the talk, as did all the boys, and I’m immensely proud of them all.
“George Tuala (tighthead prop) had a massive impact. Scott (Lasenby, lock) is probably the smallest lock in the Heartland Championship but he punched way above his weight. Parkesy led the team well from halfback and our loan players all made valuable contributions.”
Destounis played down his three-try performance.
“I was just lucky to be in the right spot at the right time,” he said. “There was a lot of hard work that went on before the tries.”
From the kick-off, the Coast made clear their intention to run the ball. First five-eighth Todd Doolan, a loan player from Waikato, and Parkes were involved in the move that led to the first try. Parkes made a darting run from broken play and passed to Doolan, who carved a big hole in the Bay defence then offloaded to Destounis to score between the posts inside the opening three minutes.
Bay hits backThe Bay hit back five minutes later, with a penalty from their best player on the day, fullback Ethine Reeves. With No.8 Siosiua Moala causing the Coast problems with his strong running, the Bay levelled the scores with a try to left-winger George Halley in the 15th minute. However, when Moala (head and shoulder injuries) and blindside flanker Willis Tamatea (medial knee ligament) left the field before halftime, the Bay lost their go-forward.
“Injuries hurt us but we’re not going to make excuses,” Bay coach Mutu Ngarimu said. “This is the Coast’s day and they deserve it.”
After Wilson’s try, the Coast dominated the second half, winning the set-pieces and looking dangerous every tine they attacked.
After the home pack demolished the Bay at scrum time, 20 metres in from the left touchline, the ball was spread wide where only a try-saving tackle by Halley on fullback Kris Palmer prevented the Coast from increasing their lead.
From the resulting Bay lineout, the ball was tapped back towards their goal-line and Destounis was the first to react, scoring an opportunist try.
The Bay refused to throw in the towel but spent most of the half on defence and feeding off scraps.
Destounis put the nail in the coffin with his third try in the 70th minute.
Although on the losing side, Reeves, halfback Willy Grogan, Moala and centre Devonte Martin played well.