Mid Canterbury got back in the winner’s circle with a 36-29 victory over West Coast in round three of rugby’s Heartland Championship in Ashburton on Saturday.
The visitors dominated early on and scored the opening try of the match through Amenatave Tukana after six minutes, but from there the first half was virtually all Mid Canterbury, with tries to Seta Koroitamana, Jarred Percival and Brian Matoramusha putting the home side out to a 21-7 lead at half-time.
After scoring a double in last weekend’s loss to North Otago, Dan Fransen scored Mid Canterbury’s bonus point try 12 minutes into the second half, before West Coast got one back courtesy of a strong forward pack to make it 28-14.
But not wanting to be outdone, Mid Canterbury’s forwards then sparked into action.
They crushed the Coast scrum to produce a penalty, and from the resulting lineout they shunted the visitors’ pack 30 metres to allow Koroitamana to get over the line for his second try of the afternoon.
West Coast scored another before Andrew Letham continued his strong form with the boot, landing a penalty to give his side a commanding 36-19 lead.
Heading into the match Mid Canterbury coach Sean Carter said his players needed to work on the mental side of their game, after letting both Horowhenu-Kapiti and North Otago back into the game in rounds one and two.
They managed to hold on against Horowhenua-Kapiti but lost thanks to a last minute try against North Otago.
When West Coast scored another try to reduce the gap to 36-26 with only a few minutes to go on Saturday, Mid Canterbury needed to heed Carter’s words, and despite having little ball they managed to hold on and defend that lead.
West Coast were awarded a penalty right on full time and while it didn’t impact on the result, they opted to take the three, which brought them to seven points behind and earned them a second bonus point from the match.
Carter said that was a disappointing end because in a tight competition where every point could prove vital come the business end, they couldn’t afford to let other teams get bonus points.
“I didn’t feel like we were going to lose the game, it was just the fact that we had worked so hard on getting good tries and good points on the board – why do we suddenly fall asleep and let teams back in the position of getting bonus points?” Carter said.
But overall, Carter said it was a much more patient and disciplined performance by his side on Saturday, compared to the week before against North Otago.
There was still plenty of room for improvement.
“We are not finishing as well as we should be.
“We are still really only playing a 40-minute game and we need to up the ante and play for more like 60 minutes and shut teams out,” Carter said.
The biggest work-on from the game was communication and staying linked on defence, particularly in the second half, but one of the biggest positives was his side’s kick receipts, Carter said.
Mid Canterbury would have to be on top of their game in round four, with the Heartland Championship’s most successful team in recent years – Wanganui – in front of them on Saturday, in Wanganui.
Mid Canterbury came through the West Coast game relatively unscathed, with the biggest injury concern being a nasty poke to the eye of lock Tom Blyth, Carter said.
Prop Sam Cottam – who missed Saturday’s game through illness – would also miss the Wanganui game as he was away this weekend, but dynamic back Isireli Masiwini was likely to be back in contention this week after coming through a full 80 minutes with the Mid Canterbury A side on Saturday to complete his comeback from injury.
Loan player Aron Einarsson also missed Saturday’s game due to injury and illness, but Carter said he was also likely to be available for selection again this week.
The gap Einarsson left in the loose forwards on Saturday was filled by New Zealand sevens player Jesse Houston – who hailed from Mid Canterbury – and Carter said he played well, pushing boundaries in what was also a comeback from injury for him.
He would also be in the mix for the trip to Wanganui meaning Carter and co-coaches Jason Rickard and Dale Palmer could have a few selection headaches this week, although that wasn’t a bad problem to have.
In other results from round three of the Heartland Championship Wanganui had a 53-0 win over Poverty Bay, while King Country also ensured they’d stay up the top of the standings with a 22-18 win over North Otago.
In Westport, Buller went down to Thames Valley 43-22 while in Ruatoria Wairarapa Bush beat East Coast 26-5.
Horowhenua-Kapiti and South Canterbury played at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium yesterday, and South Canterbury won in a canter 52-22.
– By Erin Tasker