East Coast served early warning they will be a force to be reckoned with in Wairarapa-Bush club rugby this season with a 34-15 win over a gritty Bush Sports in their Chris Kapene Memorial Cup match played at Memorial Park, Masterton, on Saturday.
It was a solid all-round performance by East Coast whose forwards had to work overtime to quell the fire in a competitive Bush Sports pack and whose backs often used a mix of flair and pace to probe holes in an opposition defence which was tenacious in their resistance.
Both sides impressed with their fitness levels considering it was their first serious outing for 2013 and played under a warm sun.
It was one of the lesser-known players in the East Coast line-up, flanker Ben Holmes, who would have been the leading contender for any player of the game award. He had the happy knack of being in the right place at the right time on both attack and defence with his speed to the breakdowns, and physical intent once he got there, particularly impressive.
In No 8 Henare Te Whare East Coast had one of the most punishing runners in broken play, an area in which skipper Joe Feast and hooker Ross Thompson also excelled, and locks Clarke Butcher and Wiremu Grace used their height to good effect at lineout time.
The decision to play usual fullback Nick Olson at halfback paid dividends for East Coast as he was quick on the pass and the break and the experienced duo of Zeb Aporo and Byron Karaitiana in the five-eighths chose their options well. Fullback Alex Gibson was sound under the high ball and with his positional play.
Bush Sports might have lacked the attacking qualities of East Coast but there was never any shortage of physical endeavour in their efforts. Front rowers Campbell Lawrence and Lance Bryant were grand value in the tighter exchanges, lock Sam Marshall-Wilson was the best lineout forward on the paddock, and No 8 Hamish Walker was strong on the tackle and invariably made useful metres with ball in hand.
The nippiness of halfback Jordan Bennett-Davies was the feature of the Bush Sports back play while John McPeak did little wrong in midfield and Jackson Clince was sound at fullback.
Clark Butcher, Ben Holmes, Byron Karaitiana and Tom Cobley were the try scorers for East Coast with Karaitiana kicking three conversions and two penalties and Nick Olson one conversion. Jackson Clince and Jack Buckley scored tries for Bush Sports and Josh Shannahan added a penalty and conversion.
New Zealand Heartland winger Nathan Hunt ran in four of Martinborough's 11 tries in their 73-5 thumping of a depleted Puketoi side with others going to Josh Hawkins (2), Cody Whittaker, Greg Dennes, Thomas Te Kani, Jared Hawkins and Tipene Haira, who has transferred from Pioneer. Haira kicked nine conversions. James Hooper-Smith scored a consolation try for Puketoi.
Greytown, winners of the main championship, the Tui Cup, last season kicked off their 2013 season with a 46-10 win over Marist. Greytown registered seven tries with three of them going to Tavita Isaac and one each to Paul Freeman, Tapaga Isaac, Teihana Brown and one other. Rihi-Mona Brown kicked two conversions and Hamish Meyrick kicked two conversions and a penalty. Hemi Walker scored a try for Marist and James Goodger kicked a penalty and conversion.
Defending Kapene Cup champions Pioneer went down to Gladstone 18-9. Cameron Hayton, who made the national Heartland side last season, scored a try and kicked one conversion and two penalties for Gladstone and Lance Graves also scored a try. Joseph Thompson landed three penalties for Marist.
The Carterton v Eketahuna match ended in a 20-20 draw with the points coming in similar fashion for both sides. Mathew Harrison and Blair Heming scored tries for Carterton and Danny Brown kicked two conversions and two penalties. Rupeni Tamani, who was outstanding in the loose, and Anthony Eagle scored tries for Eketahuna and Tom Meuli kicked two conversions and two penalties.