Wanganui Toyota Development XV are set for a home and away series with Horowhenua-Kapiti Development to retain their RDO Shield after blowing by Wairarapa-Bush Development 50-19 at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.
In the curtain raiser to the Heartland Championship match, Wanganui had a reinforced lineup and were scoring at a point-a-minute in the first quarter – their opening try coming in 40 seconds – with both sides favouring spreading the ball and looking vulnerable on outside back defence.
The home side's execution was the better, as standout second-five Te Kepa Grindlay and athletic lock Jack Hodges both scored the first of their two tries, while hooker Joe Edwards also dotted down.
First-five Shandon Scott was back from squash duties and kicked a penalty plus two conversions for a 22-7 advantage, with the visitor's try coming from flanker Ryan Knell.
Wanganui kept up the momentum as fullback Sheldon Pakinga-Manhire made a strong break before the ball was transferred to other sideline and winger Peni Vui made a reverse flick pass for centre Josaia Bogileka to collect on the bounce and score.
Pakinga-Manhire and Vui were going to have an afternoon of mixed fortunes, as the winger was sinbinned for a dangerous tackle just before halftime, and then midway through the second-half, the fullback was got a straight red card as the Wairarapa-Bush was injured.
Wairarapa-Bush had included the lightning quick Soli Malatai, who made headlines with five tries in one Heartland game last year, and the 21-year-old set up a reply try to his fullback Harry Eschenbach for 29-12, before Wanganui had the final say near halftime as Grindlay took the ball down the Peter Snell statue sideline and turned on the pace to outstrip the cover defence and run back towards the posts for 36-12.
Malatai made another charging run after halftime to put Knell in for his double.
But Wairarapa-Bush would get no closer than 36-19, as Bogileka secured a partially charged down clearing kick just outside the visitor's 22m, and ran on the angle to cut through three defenders and score beside the posts.
There would be no more points for nearly half an hour as Wanganui lost Pakinga-Manhire and play became scrappy with both team's putting on their benches, while a number of Wairarapa-Bush defenders were limping after heavy contacts or the continued pace of the game.
Finally, Hodges snatched up a turnover in his own 22m, and finding no outside back defenders near him and slow forwards unable to keep up, he just took off to run straight down to the other set of posts for Scott to then raise the half century on fulltime.
Coach Kim McNaught agreed playing attack-orientated rugby was part of the draw card for keeping up the numbers to play in Wanganui's second-tier team.
"They're trying to push for those top places.
"That's been the emphasis all year — throw the ball around and go for the gap."
After a fortnight away, flanker Angus Middleton made his return to rugby off the bench and the Heartland squad could well need him after Jamie Hughes was sent off in the feature game.
However, the Development XV should have reinforcements as New Zealand Heartland XV Under 19 captain Jason Myers will be home from the Jock Hobbs national tournament, as well as hooker Kohlt Coveny.
"We're spoiled for flankers at the moment, be good when those boys come back," said McNaught.
Having now beaten Wairarapa-Bush twice while the Wellington Maori Development XV have withdrawn from the RDO Shield, Wanganui Development will play Horowhenua-Kapiti at Spriggens Park this Saturday, then have a return game against them in Levin the following week.
Wanganui Development 50 (T Grindlay 2, J Bogileka 2, J Hodges 2, J Edwards tries; S Scott pen, 6 con) bt Wairarapa-Bush Development 19 (R Knell 2, H Eschenbach tries; M Falaniko 2 con). HT: 36-12.