A fast finishing West Coast side may have just come up short 24-19 in their quest for victory against Marlborough in Murchison on Saturday in their Seddon Shield challengers playoff match, but the positives by far outweighed the negatives, with some top class performances by many in the red and white hooped jerseys. With several players missing through injuries, the Coast side that fronted performed admirably against their bigger opposites, and the Coast coaches will have a pleasant headache in trying to decide on their best 22 to select heading towards the Heartland competition opener against North Otago on August 22nd.
The Marlborough side opened the scoring on a field that was still drying out from an inch of early morning snow, with a 15th minute penalty to fullback Ra Tamati, before he added to his points tally again three minutes later, after a storming run by lock Hamish Munro, who brushed off some poor tackling by the Coast defenders, to pop up a pass for Tamati to run onto to score and convert for a 10-0 lead for the Red Devils.
West Coast then had some sustained periods of attack with the forward pack laying some solid foundations for the backs to attack, with flanker Alan Monk providing a good link with the backs, while winger Regan Stanton put his personal safety aside, enjoying running straight at the Marlborough defenders, crashing into them with the force that would have seen him go through a brick wall. West Coast had a couple of kick-able penalty opportunities, but decided to back their line-out and kick for attacking line out options, but on both occasions the ball was turned over with no points being scored as the chances were wasted.
Just on half time, it was then Coasts turn to defend and they did very well to keep their opposition out with some stoic defence, that kept the score to 10-0 at the break. If Marlborough had have scored at that stage, the score line would not have been a true reflection of the match, as West Coast more than matched their opposites.
Coast made several changes in the second half, introducing halfback Torres, hooker Ben Campbell, while winger Mudu entered the fray after Jason Wright suffered a gash on his ear that required treatment. While the end of the first half might have been a solid defensive effort, West Coast would have been disappointed in not taking a clean take from the restart which gave Marlborough a chance to attack. West Coast may have eventually effected a turn over gaining a defensive scrum close to their own line, a tight head quickly had Marlborough spinning the ball wide, for flanker Cody Weir to crash over in the right hand corner in the 42 minute, with the Tamati again converting, to put Marlborough out to a 17-0 lead.
West Coast responded well to that setback, with some powerful displays of solid running by centre Kevin Moore, and the industrious wing replacement winger Mudu, who was busy and looked for work in his time on the field. Several other players shone for West Coast, with number eight Dylan Nel having several storming runs leaving Marlborough defenders sprawled on the turf in his wake, while his tackling was at time ferocious. Nel may well turn out to be a key player in this years Heartland Campaign if he can keep that kind of form up. Another player to shine was hooker Ben Campbell who was also a menace on attack with the ball in hand, and caused headaches for the Marlborough defenders with a constant stream of bollocking runs.
With plenty of quality ball, West Coast then scored a fine try in the 55th minute from an attacking scrum five meters out from the Marlborough line to halfback Hugo Torres, who caught the defence napping to dive over to the right hand side of the posts after a darting run. Nathan Smith duly converted to make the score 17-7. Just as things were starting to click for West Coast, Marlborough responded in kind in the 60th minute with a try of their own, when half back Ben Finau dived over from a ruck close to the line, after a solid set of phases by their forwards. Fullback Tamati again added the extras via the conversion, to extend their lead to 24-7.
It was at this stage of the game where West Coast’s strong fitness levels started to show, with the men in Red and White hitting straight back themselves in the 63rd minute with a fine try to centre Archie McBride after a brilliant attacking run by Torres down the left hand touch line lead to the ball being spun wide through the backs, before fullback Costello passed to McBride who dived over in the right hand corner for a fine team try, which was unconverted to leave them trailing 24-12.
West Coast while having their tails up through some fine attacking play, also had periods on defence, but with the West Coast loose forwards tackling their hearts out, they could also rely on fullback Costello’s booming kicks to get his team mates out of some dangerous positions on more than one occasion, and through these acts the confidence in the side remained strong.
That confidence was rewarded a final time in the 77th minute with a fine try to second half substitute first five Nic Cummings, after half back Torres popped up a fine pass for the flying five eighth to hit the line at pace to dive over, for Torres to convert.
At 24-19 the Coast ran out of time to pull off what would have been an amazing win, but they should keep their heads held high, with the Coast fans in attendance all in agreement that what they had witnessed was some fine rugby with some great signs for the season ahead, one in which they’ll be celebrating 125 years of West Coast Rugby.