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‘Uphill battle’ in 36-0 loss

Good-quality rugby in difficult conditions: Rotorua coach


The Super 8 has always been as tough as any secondary schools rugby competition in New Zealand.

A Gisborne Boys’ High School first 15 as dedicated as any has struck three opponents at the top of their game — Palmerston North BHS, Napier BHS and Rotorua BHS — in a row in the last month.

RBHS beat Gisborne Boys’ 36-0 here on Saturday to retain the Craig Callaghan Memorial Trophy for the third straight year since its presentation here, and record their second S8 win of the season.

Raukura led GBHS 21-0 at half time on Saturday, with the Nathaniel Hauiti-led hosts fighting as hard in Game 3 as they did in the 10-30 loss to Palmerston North and the 20-27 result versus Napier.

The home team is gutsy and their forwards’ improvement at the scrum (they took a first-half tighthead against a solid RBHS pack) is something real, alongside their obvious passion, that they can be proud of.

PNBHS, NBHS and RBHS are classy outfits and the expansive nature of their rugby here was remarkable.

Gisborne flankers Dylan Bronlund and Ben Phelps have made as many cover tackles as head-on tackles three games into the competition, and Rotorua’s willingness to shift and use the ball as well as they did speaks volumes about the vision of their assistant coach and backs coach Ruki Tipuna, whose in-game energy has rubbed off on his charges.

GBHS beat 2019 national champions Hastings BHS 17-5 here on August 8 last year, and they will take the Norman McConnell Cup on the team bus with them to Akina this weekend.

Against Rotorua, GBHS head coach Ryan Tapsell’s side was focused from Poverty Bay referee Damien MacPherson’s first whistle blast.

“Our boys started well but two of Raukura’s tries before the break came from errors, and once we got behind it was an uphill battle,” said Tapsell.

“Our lineout was good at times but we needed to match their physicality at the breakdown and also execute our own game plan.”

The esteem in which the home team is held by their visitors comes through in waves from their former champion halfback, Ruki Tipuna.

'It was good-quality rugby, considering the weather'

“They had the better scrum and it’s never easy to win in Gizzy — that said, we were happy with the way we played and it was good-quality rugby, considering the weather,” said Tipuna.

On a chilly, wet day with 600 hardy souls in attendance, the hosts kicked off into the northerly breeze.

Rotorua BHS loosehead prop Sione Tupou scored the first try of the game 10 minutes into the first half. From an attacking lineout 20m from the right corner, lock Bailey Carmichael won Rotorua ball at 3, Raukura’s forwards drove on him and Tupou crash-landed 10m infield. Left-footed first-five Kees Van Der Heyden converted for 7-0.

In the 13th minute, again on the right touch, Carmichael won his own lineout ball at 3 (2m into RBHS territory) before Van Der Heyden had his clearing kick partially charged down by Bronlund. The ball fell to GBHS first-five Carlos Hihi, at which point it went loose and Rotorua BHS vice-captain No.8 Tama Whareaorere toed the ball through twice, then scored under the bar, which with Van Der Heyden’s conversion made the score 14-0.

In the 21st minute, 5m out from the right corner, Carmichael again won his own ball and from the ensuing lineout drive, RBHS captain openside flanker Brooke Mitchell scored 5m infield. Van Der Heyden converted for 21-0, the halftime score.

Five minutes after the break, Rotorua went in for their fourth try — Tupou’s second. Whareaorere won his own ball at 4 from a lineout a metre from GBHS’ right corner. Twice Gisborne Boys’ brought strong RBHS runners down. Gisborne Boys’ High then put boot to ball, play moving up past halfway, and the visitors’ fullback Tome Poona (with the support of wingers Waisaki Salabiau and Jericho Yorke) led an inspired counterattack down the blindside to put Tupou away in the left corner for 26-0: Van Der Heyden did not convert.

Forty-eight minutes in, the score changed again: RBHS reserve lock Tiaki Ngarimu won a reset line-out at 2, just outside GBHS’ 22, right touch. Rotorua drove the ball upfield and went left twice before Salabiau won the race to a kicked ball to score 15m in from the left corner. Minus the conversion, RBHS led 31-0.

Rotorua scored their last try, Salabiau’s second for the day — and last points — in the 62nd minute. From a scrum 10m on their own side of halfway, 10m off the right touch, Raukura won the ball and cleared left to second-five Liliano Sabatini. Sabatini kicked through, RBHS Most Valuable Player centre John Horua gathered the ball up and hooked a great pass to Salabiau, who dotted down 8m in from the left corner.

The scoring was wrapped up at 36-0 but over 70 minutes, GBHS had competed in every phase. Lock Matiu Anderson and No.8 Nik Patumaka’s great work often goes unnoticed because they are buried in the dark places.

Hauiti carries the ball hard every time he does, and while his teammates might benefit from a lower body position in contact, there is no shortage of forwards looking for work. The lineout yielded good ball at times and great enthusiasm was shown by starting centre Paraina Davies, who made a great chase early in the game at Rotorua’s end.

GBHS captain tighthead prop Hauiti identified another creditable aspect of his crew’s performance: their midfield defence. Sabatini, Horua and Yorke all ran aggressively at Gisborne’s Josh Whyte and his new other half Davies, and they made their tackles.

Rotorua tested GBHS’ backline spatially as well as physically and their inventiveness was a striking feature of their play. The battering-ram approach has its uses, but both Gisborne and Rotorua look to be more dangerous when opponents are kept guessing. They have the quickness to be disruptive and fit, mobile forwards to apply pressure from that point on.

Hauiti said: “I was impressed by Ben’s work rate on Saturday — he gave it 100 percent. Nik had a good game as well. We all want to improve.”

HIGH WORK RATE: Gisborne Boys’ High first 15 flanker Ben Phelps had a busy day on Saturday in the side’s 36-0 loss against a polished Rotorua Boys’ High first XV. Picture by Paul Rickard