Wairarapa-Bush had to dig deep for their 30-23 win over United States Collegiate at Memorial Park, Masterton, yesterday.
The home team looked to have the game in the bag when they went to halftime with a comfortable 24-3 advantage but the second spell was a completely different story, United States Collegiate dominating the action and closing the gap to 24-23 with seven minutes remaining.
Unfortunately for the visitors, however, they could not maintain the momentum when it mattered most and it was Wairarapa-Bush who had the final say, first-five Glen Walters landing two long-range penalty kicks to ensure they started their season on a winning note.
There were some promising signs in the Wairarapa-Bush performance.
Up front their scrummaging effort in the first half was outstanding, illustrated by the fact they managed to claim two tightheads, something virtually unheard of these days. And they also clearly had the better of their opposition in the rucks and mauls in that first 40 minutes when their physicality often had the visitors back-pedalling at a great rate of knots.
The close-quarter defence of the Wairarapa-Bush pack was also impressive, more particularly in the second spell when the Collegiate forwards launched several short passing rushes. Several times they threatened to get across the line only to be thwarted by the aggressive tackling of the home side.
The Wairarapa-Bush backs were always prepared to chance their arm on attack and while the number of basic handling and passing errors was more than they would have liked, it was encouraging to see them breach the advantage line on numerous occasions. Defensively they were generally sound although there were times when they allowed the speedy Collegiate backs too much latitude in space.
Front rowers Finnbarr Kerr-Newell, Richard Puddy and Campbell Lawrence were three of the standout individuals for Wairarapa-Bush, not only for the stability they provided at scrum time but also for their mobility about the paddock. Lawrence, especially, was a difficult man to stop with ball in hand.
Locks Lachie McFadzean and Clark Butcher used their height and athleticism to good effect in the lineouts and the riches Wairarapa-Bush have in the loose forward department was apparent with skipper Johan Van Vliet, James Goodger, Johnie McFadzean and Nathan Iro all playing a prominent role.
The soundness of the inside combination of Zeb Aporo and Glen Walters was a feature of the Wairarapa-Bush back play, along with the the ability of Tapaga Issac at second-five to punch holes in the opposition defence with his hard, straight running.
Fullback Nick Olson was typically elusive on the counter attack.
United States Collegiate would have been disappointed with the lack of fire up front in the first half but they certainly lifted their effort in the second. In rugged lock John Cullen they had one of the best forwards on the paddock and flanker Kyle Sumsion was not far behind him. Midfielders Stephan Tomison and Mike Haley and fullback Jake Anderson were lively in the backs.
Johnie McFadzean, Van Vliet, Nathan Hunt and Issac scored tries for Wairarapa-Bush and Walters kicked two penalties and two conversions.
Sumsion and John Cullen scored tries for Collegiate and Jake Anderson kicked three penalties and two conversions.