When Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau stuck their heads out the window on Saturday morning and saw storm clouds gathering around Mt Ruapehu, they had to know it was going to be one of those days.
After a Tasman Tanning Premier competition that started at the tail-end of summer, it was a return to true winter conditions on a muddy Rochfort Park on Saturday, as McCarthy’s Ruapehu signalled they are beginning to hit their straps entering Round 2 by riding forward pack domination to a 36-3 shutout.
Despite two recent wins, Kaierau lost the services of some key players during the week, to go with the big blow of veteran fullback Ace Malo’s cheek injury ending his club campaign.
As the alpine weather brought heavy cloud bursts and swirling wind from different directions they struggled to get any impetus on attack.
Second-five Areta Lama had to shoulder the responsibility for the offence, where he along with first-five Steve Collier and new fullback Taylor Kirkwood struggled in the conditions with dropped ball, missed touch finders and tactical kicks which Ruapehu easily snapped up after their solid defensive line held.
It was a tough day for the tacticians all around as Ruapehu first-five George Williams had similar problems during the first half in the rapidly changing weather the home team looking better-oiled when William Short came on at halfback for the second stanza.
But if muddy conditions are a nightmare for playmakers, they are a paradise for front rowers, as Ruapehu props Karl Parker and Kim McNaught were outstanding in their 60 minutes on the field, along with hooker Roman Tutauha who played the full match.
While the wet did not lend itself to spreading the ball, Ruapehu’s veterans showed good handling as No8 Andrew Evans and second-five Logan Vaughan were standouts, although the latter had a disappointing end to his day in being selected for the yellow card by referee Gordon Ririnui after team infringement warnings.
The only Kaierau forward able to impose his will on Ruapehu was stalwart No8 Darren Munro, as his determination to bring down their mauls and willingness to always make the first hit ups made him a target for some hard tackles.
“I thought he was the player of the day, even though we were well beaten,” said Kaierau coach Keith Savell.
“They just had too much firepower for us.”
For Ruapehu coach Chris Winter, it had been a case of his team keeping it simple as circumstances dictated the strongest tight-five would carry the day.
“If it’s wet weather, you don’t go too far from [that style].
“You’ve got to have a bit of everything in your arsenal.”
Having the forwards in good nick will be crucial this week as Ruapehu travel south to try and reclaim the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield they lost to Harvey Round Motors Ratana in March.
“Down there in the Pa, you’re playing all of Ratana, not just their XV,” Winter said.
Kaierau opened the scoring with a Collier penalty, before Ruapehu lock Sonny Woodmass dummied straight through the line and showed great pace for a tall man as winger Stu Brosnahan couldn’t run him down over 35m.
Nearing halftime, Ruapehu’s pack drove Parker over the line but Ririnui missed the grounding and went back for a penalty advantage, so the forwards just repeated the dose for Tutauha to get the try.
In the second stanza, Williams spotted a half gap and slipped his way over under the posts, then fullback Zyon Hekenui finished off an 80m sweep down field by scoring in the corner after superb leadup work by centre Owen King, Short and Evans.
Lock Teira Cowan and Short also scored off their driving pack to complete a good day for the men in the Ruapehu engine room.
By Jared Smith – WANGANUI CHRONICLE