Mid Canterbury’s rugby fans would have been wondering where their championship team had got to as the teams left the field at half-time in their Heartland match against West Coast on Saturday.
The home team made a dreadful start, in which they lost possession from their own first two lineouts, and in the third gained possession but handed it up to a charging Coast No. 8 who promptly set up a try for the visitors.
Losing star flanker Gary Redmond injured in the first half didn’t help the Hammers’ cause.
The Coasters were putting in some clever kicks from a wealth of possession, and after the sides exchanged penalties the home side found itself defending on the line.
Tukulua Tolu was given a yellow card for a professional foul, and the pressure told when Nick Makea dived over.
Dwayne Burrows kept Mid Canterbury in the game, breaking three tackles in a run to the line, and Murray Williams landed a penalty to close the gap to three, but on the stroke of halftime the home defence left a yawning gap for prop Lolesio Lavea to gallop 25 metres untouched.
Mid Canterbury were looking down the barrel of a 14 point deficit starting the second half, and with only 14 men again with Peni Manumanuniwila in the bin, but after five minutes the backline began to show their true wares.
Andrew Letham raced through a gap to score from 30 metres out, then his team-mates poured on the pressure and Dwayne Burrows went in under the posts to get within two points of the visitors.
The Hammers’ forwards were slowly gaining some parity, and a tighthead on their own line was a mental turning point for them, as they started to take control of rucks, and in the last quarter of the match they were repeatedly shoving the red-and-whites off their own ball.
After a series of rucks in the Coasters’ 22 Burrows landed his hat-trick try, coming from way back and smashing through five tackles to put Mid Canterbury in front for the first time in the match.
West Coast came back and spent several minutes hard on attack, but superb defence kept them out, and when play went up the other end of the paddock, Seta Koroitamana received a nice inside pass to cut through and dot down under the sticks.
Two minutes later he was in again, this time out wide as the Hammers took complete control of the game.
There was another penalty to Williams, whose all-round kicking game was again near-perfect, and then Brenton Connell finished off another period of sustained pressure with a try in the last act of the game.
Mid Canterbury had come from 27-13 down, to finish commanding 52-27 winners.
Despite the deficit coach Glenn Moore was “quite calm” at halftime.
“We just had to keep playing at pace because any time we played at pace they were sucking air,” Moore said.
“You won’t put every team away in the first half, and one of our strengths is being one of the fittest teams in the competition.
“That’s how we play our game, and a lot of times games come down to that last 15 minutes.”
Moore was pleased with banking the five points to start the season but was keeping his feet on the ground.
“There will be plenty to work on for weeks to come.
“It’s just week by week and trying to get better.”
Mid Canterbury 52 (Dwayne Burrows 3, Andrew Leathem, Setariki Koroitamana 2, Brenton Connell tries; Murray Williams 4 con, 3 pen)
West Coast 27 (Sio Lavea, Sean McClure, Nick Makea tries; Tim Priest 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 13-27
– Article by Steve Devereux – http://www.guardianonline.co.nz