Brought to you by Wanganui Rugby
By Jared Smith
Byfords Readmix Taihape remain the road warriors of Tasman Tanning Premier rugby, but only by the skin of their teeth against a passionate Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist at Spriggens Park on Saturday.
Claiming their ninth consecutive win away from home, once again by a single point, Taihape sweated on a missed conversion right beside the posts with less than 90 seconds left on the clock to hang on 19-18.
While the ending was pulsating, the match had been a very stop-start affair, with a steady stream of whistle blasts and scrums.
The Marist squad, which is a mixture of veterans and untried youth, were desperately hoping to claim a victory to honour their absent midfielder Josaia Bogileka, whose young son died tragically at the start of the week.
However, they struggled to contest at the break down against a composed Taihape forward pack, whom in the past two seasons, by hook or by crook, have made their side the toughest in Premier rugby to score a try against.
There was a fair amount of the crook, as referee Sean Ferguson whistled up a high penalty count against the visitors for wayward hands and other infringements in the ruck, eventually sinbinning blindside flanker Regan Collier early in the second half after repeated team warnings.
Ferguson was consistent, as Marist halfback Rory Gudsell was also sent to the posts for being well offside at an attacking Taihape scrum.
Scoring three tries to two, Taihape's physicality off attacking scrums against young defenders proved decisive, as centre Tiari Mumby and standout prop Ritchie Iorns both scored on pick-and-go drives close to the line, while the veteran firm of reserve Tremaine Gilbert and winger Jaye Flaws combined with a classic No8 scrum dash and flick-pass offload to put their team back in the lead with 15 minutes left.
Marist, on the other hand, couldn't breech the wall, being held up at or over the tryline three times, and unfortunately fumbling a great grubber kick into an open corner flag from fullback Ashton Coates.
But two pieces of individual brilliance from Marist hooker Jack Yarrall looked like they might be secure the upset, as he made a legitimate 82m run - no typical front rower exaggerations needed - to score an intercept try in the first half, then had spectators roaring with another 22m solo effort as he went off the ruck and stepped his way through to dive beside the posts for 19-18.
But then the rugby gods made a cruel decision, as Coates left his straightforward conversion dead straight to shave the outside right-hand post – an unjust conclusion for a young man who had slotted all three previous kicks, was composed under the signature bombs from Taihape first-five Dane Whale, and had produced some excellent clearances into the breeze for Marist to play the better part of the second half inside the attacking 50m.
Marist lock Brad O'Leary and skipper Bradley Graham also had strong games, but opposing them were the masters of contesting in the pack, as Taihape's captain Matt Brown and the props Wiremu Cottrell and Iorns produced so many big turnovers.
"They're just so good around the ball in the ruck and those areas, that's their strength," said Marist manager Gerald O'Donnell.
"I thought their game plan in the second half would have been to drill us to the corners with Dane's big kicks, but they didn't really do it.
"We managed to grind our way up from [our half] to there.
"The wind dies down a little bit in the late afternoon, and that's why I think our boys got there."
With young outside backs and plenty of newcomers on the bench, O'Donnell was still proud that only the bounce of ball had denied them a win over the defending champs, as Marist had been determined to do well to honour the Bogileka family.
"If we'd had Josaia there today, it would have been a different story again – him and Pati [Fa'asisina Leo] together.
"I was just rapt that we got up there and scored the try, I hadn't even been looking at the scoreboard."
Taihape coach Tom Wells had.
"It was a tight one, wasn't it?
"We'll take the win on the road again, but Marist played awesome.
"Our defence has been awesome, but we were pinged off the park and our discipline was pretty amateur, really.
"We need to really work on that – the penalty count was really high and rubbish penalties too."
Taihape will now prepare for a run of home matches, starting with Waverley Harvesting Border next Saturday, as they look to consolidate second place on the points table.
"We were losing these [close] games last year, so to get two from two in that fashion, we'll obviously take it," said Wells.
"It'll be good to get home and play alongside the B's, and hopefully get some support there."
Taihape 19 (T Mumby, R Iorns, J Flaws tries; D Whale 2 con) bt Marist 18 (J Yarrall 2 tries; A Coates 2 pen, con). HT: 12-10.