The team now has one final challenge to repel this weekend against Seddon Shield giants Nelson Bays if it is to claim the shield for the 2014 season, something they haven’t been able to achieve since 1984.
It was holders West Coast who opened the games scoring on Saturday with a penalty goal to Tim Priest after Buller was penalised for a breakdown infringement after just 2 minutes of play. Buller five-eigth James Lash was quick to reply however with his own penalty goal just 4 minutes later after West Coast had been caught offside just inside their own half.
The diminutive standoff made the 45 metre penalty attempt look easy, clearing the crossbar with ease. From the kick-off, it was Lash who found space in behind the West Coast backs as he put a deft kick in front of the covering defence to see Peni Nabanivalu recover the ball and offload to Iliesa Ravudra who raced around under the posts to score untouched.
Lash added the extra two points and Buller found themselves with an early 10-3 lead after just 11 minutes of play. From the kick-off Buller were unable to secure the ball and immediately found themselves staring at their own posts as Priest kicked his second penalty after a Buller player was caught offside. In what was very quickly becoming the James Lash show, the impressive five eight found his own way over the whitewash after Buller had an attacking scrum just 5 metres from the West Coast line.
After a solid scrum, Lash received the ball from co-captain Andrew Stephens before dummying inside and then showing a clean pair of heels to outsprint the opposition defence to score adjacent to the posts. Of course, he made no mistake with the conversion and all of a sudden Buller had built up a 17-6 lead midway through the first half. Priest was again able to close the gap with his third penalty of the match just moments later when Buller was again caught offside.
It appeared on two occasions that Buller had added to their lead as Nabainivalu twice found himself scoring handy to the posts only to be brought back both times. The first occasion was for an obstruction whilst the second time moments later he was awarded the try only for assistant referee intervention to call the players back for a forward pass. In what turned out to be a huge momentum swing, West Coast found themselves just one point behind after loose forward Alan Monk finished off a rolling maul for the Coast to score and with Priest’s conversion the score was 17-16 after 37 minutes of play.
Buller also found themselves without standout player Lash who had to leave the field with a rib injury. Buller was able to have the final say with a penalty goal to stand-in kicker Andrew Stephens who converted a tough kick to take the challengers in to the half time break with a 20-16 lead. The Buller forwards had worked tirelessly all half and none more so than hooker Warwick Know who made some strong carries and big tackles in the first 40 minutes. The Buller backline looked ominous every time they touched the ball and the centre pairing of Nabainivalu and Mike Lealava’a were creating opportunities regularly.
After the halftime break, Stephens and Priest traded penalty kicks in the opening stages before Buller struck a decisive blow at the three-quarter mark when winger Scott Neighbours scored in the corner after a backline move from a midfield attacking scrum. Under plenty of pressure from the sideline, Stephens kicked the conversion to take Buller to a handy 30-19 lead.
From the kickoff, replacement play Isei Lewaqai secured the ball and bust through three defenders before running to the opposition 22m line and offloading a one hand pass to Moore who showed excellent hands and speed to be up with play to waltz over the line under the crossbar to land a huge body blow to the Shield defenders. After the Stephens conversion it was Buller who now had one hand firmly on the Shield with a 37-19 lead and only 14 minutes to play. Both teams emptied their benches looking for fresh legs as the high tempo game was starting to take it’s toll.
West Coast added a try to Sean McClure with 5 minutes to go before Buller replied moments later with a try to winger Setefano Sauqaqa to seal the win for Buller. Whilst West Coast had the final say in the games last play of the game with a converted try to Peter Te Rakau it was certainly Buller’s day claiming a famous 42-31 victory.
There were many stand-out performers for the Buller side, none more so than Moore who was outstanding in the middle of the Buller pack. His experience at lineout time was invaluable whilst his play around the field was near impeccable. Co-captain Stephens was great at dictating much of the Buller play and his decision making was first-class.
His goal kicking in the absence of Lash was also worthy of note, landing some pressure kicks. Jerome Vaai playing his first match for Buller was impressive, the tight-head prop was dynamic around the field with ball in hand whilst his lineout throwing and defence was also very solid.
The Buller loose forward trio of Blair McIlroy, Luke Brownlee and debutant Tai Ratu worked extremely well together in their first outing as a group whilst replacement five eight Jesse Elley slotted into Lash’s shoes comfortably and skilfully.
BULLER v NELSON BAYS
Saturday 16th August, 2-30pm @ Victoria Square