Wairarapa Bush kept their hopes of making the semifinals of the Meads Cup very much alive when they beat Mid Canterbury 31-6 in a Heartland Championship match littered with penalties at Masterton today.
It's a far cry from last season when Wairarapa Bush won just one Heartland game and was seeded 10th out of the 12 sides.
The same could be said of Mid Canterbury, but for very different reasons. Their latest defeat means they are virtually out of the running to make the semifinals of the Meads Cup for the first time since 2006.
While Wairarapa Bush managed to run in three tries, the match was a stop-start affair with penalties being blown with monotonous regularity throughout.
In fact, Wairarapa Bush led 9-0 after just eight minutes through three penalties by first-five Glen Walters and by halftime the home team had stretched their advantage to 19-3. Walters had all of their points, adding a try, conversion and penalty to his earlier efforts.
Mid Canterbury, for their part, missed two penalty attempts from right in front before fullback Ben Kitching slotted one to give them their only points of the first half. Their cause also wasn't by having two players sent to the sin bin, a situation which saw them operating with 13 players for a brief period.
The second spell saw Mid Canterbury apply most of the early pressure but, again, they failed to turn prime scoring chances into points and their frustration was compounded when pacy Wairarapa Bush wing Cameron Hayton sprinted 40m for a try to advance their lead to 24-6.
Kitching banged over a close-range penalty for Mid Canterbury but it was Wairarapa-Bush who had the final say, halfback Matt O'Connor working the short side and flanker Tom Fleming crashing over for the try. Walters converted from the sideline to make it 31-6.
Walters and Hayton were the standout players for Wairarapa Bush in the backs while Fleming, Andrew McLean and Johan Van Vliet shone up front. Openside flanker Van Vliet continued his dynamic form on attack and defence and is a youngster seemingly destined to make his mark at a much higher level than Heartland rugby.
Mid Canterbury had two rampaging runners in prop Tukulua Tolu and lock Tevita Vi in their pack but their backline struggled to get any rhythm into their game. Halfback Matt Sykes was the pick of them.
Wairarapa Bush 31 (Glen Walters, Cameron Hayton, Tom Fleming tries; Walters 4 pens, 2 cons) Mid Canterbury 6 (Ben Kitching 2 pens). HT: 19-3.By Gary Caffell of the Wairarapa Times Age