Steelform Wanganui can enter their Mitre 10 Heartland campaign brimming with confidence after grinding out a 15-14 win over Wellington Development XV at a sodden Cooks Gardens this afternoon.
Coach Jason Caskey and his staff had wanted their forwards to get a solid final preseason hit-out against a larger pack, and the heavy rainfall on a track beginning to cut up after the curtain raiser meant the afternoon would be all about succeeding through both the engine room and an accurate kicking game.
Although not flawless, making their share of little errors and turnovers at the ruck on a day when you simply couldn't step tacklers without risking slipping over, Wanganui controlled the territory for the better part for the first hour, leading 12-0 and then 15-7 as Wellington looked to bust the line through their big men in the tight five.
A seven-point penalty try for offiside right in front of the posts closed the margin right up with less than eight minutes left, but Wanganui defended well and kept Wellington on their own side of halfway for most of the remainder of the match to wind down the clock, the visitors making a series of handling errors as they had to chance their arm.
Wellington Development XV, who could arguably be the largest scalp Wanganui has taken in recent years in terms of being the semi-professional backup players in their Mitre 10 Cup union, would rue some of their first half kicking options before the rain intensified, as fullback Tyler Rogers-Holden handled the pressure and sent the ball back to them, as did first-five Dane Whale, starting ahead of Craig Clare.
Rogers-Holden was also tried at halfback in the third quarter for incumbent Lindsay Horrocks, in perhaps a tip of the hat to Wanganui's plans in their second game with Thames Valley while a handful of them are with the NZ Heartland XV.
Up front, Wanganui had an early set back with lock Josh Lane limped out of the match, but Chris Breuer proved an able replacement with captain Campbell Hart, leading from the front, moving in from flanker to join Sam Madams.
No8 Bryn Hudson made some solid carries against the heavy tackling men from the capital, who were looking to get home on their physicality in the final quarter, while flanker Angus Middleton gave another determined whistle-to-whistle effort.
Props Wiremu Cottrell and Kamipeli Latu had a tough assignment against Wellington's brick house frontrowers in Ha'amea Ahio and their standout player Pasi Uluilkepa, but the scrum held strong, as it did when Gabriel Hakaraia came on after playing 70 minutes of the curtain raiser.
Before the field got bogged down, winger Vereniki Tikoilsolomone had an quick fire shootout with Wellington's speedsters like hard running second-five Pira Paraone and winger Losi Filipo, and he showed them the sideline well enough, while making the initial burst out wide which led to the opening try for hooker Joe Edwards on a kick chase into the in-goal corner.
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Whale slipping through two tacklers off a scum win to dash under the posts for a straight forward conversion in the 48th minute proved decisive on a wet day when any points could prove crucial.
The same can be said for Clare's somewhat difficult penalty kick in the 68th minute, in a quick response to Wellington's own first-five Brandyn Laursen scoring a similar try to Whale, after he slipped two tacklers close to the line when recovering a loose pass just after a close range attacking scrum.
Happy to tuck into some warm food in the dressing shed, Hart appreciated his forwards had stood up to a solid test.
"They were big boys, coming up against them.
"We want our strong defence, we build our game around that.
"Probably, [we] could play better in the wet, but it's a work-on."
The only negative factor for Caskey was the match circumstances could not simulate the conditions Wanganui will encounter this coming weekend – facing Wairarapa Bush on their high-bouncing artificial turf at Memorial Park.
"You play the games as they come, all totally different.
"We were using the conditions pretty well, kicking in behind. It's the right style of game on the right day.
"We just rushed a couple of things we could have done a bit better."
The Lane injury aside, Caskey was delighted his forwards had been tested with their defence, carries, and cleanout at the breakdown.
"They would have given away a fair few kilos in the pack as well."
Wanganui 15 (Joe Edwards, Dane Whale tries; Craig Clare pen, Whale con) bt Wellington Development XV 14 (Brandyn Laursen try, penalty try; Lauren con). HT: 5-0.