Mid Canterbury extended their unbeaten run to three matches with a 25-17 victory over King Country at the Ashburton Showgrounds in blustery conditions on Saturday.
Coach Grant Keenan fielded a side with five changes from the team that took a last-gasp 30-28 win over Wanganui in game two, but managed to pick up four points despite some unconvincing patches.
Adam Williamson started ahead of Mark Andrew at loosehead, while James Annabell replaced Jackson Donlan at hooker, Maikeli Mudu began at lock, Eric Duff moved to blindside flanker and Seta Koroitamana returned to the left wing.
It was announced just before the teams emerged that Murray Williams would be replaced at first five by Ewan Scott.
Keenan said the decision to rest the 33-year-old was precautionary after straining his hamstring at Cooks Gardens last week.
Scott missed his first opportunity to put points on the board from a penalty two minutes in as both sides struggled to keep possession in a cagey opening spell.
Scott was on target from a penalty after 20 minutes before halfback Zayn Tipping returned fire with a penalty of his own.
The Hammers began to gain momentum and force errors as Scott scored from a charge-down and duly converted his try to push the home side’s lead out to seven points, before slotting a penalty on the stroke of half time for a 13-3 score at the interval.
Mid Canterbury looked to wrap things up early in the second half, pouring phase after phase at King Country.
Keenan then decided to freshen up his forward pack as loosehead prop Adam Williamson made way for Mark Andrew.
The Hammers’ first try of the second half stemmed from a well-worked lineout and some quick phase passing as centre Fa’aitu Tuamoheoa touched down for his side’s second try, but Scott failed to collect the extras in challenging conditions for the kickers.
The Meads Cup holders camped inside King Country’s 22 and piled pressure on before lock Maikeli Mudu powered his way through to touch down in the corner.
Scott’s conversion rattled the post on its way over as the lead extended to 25-3.
Keenan rang the changes on the hour as Will Mackenzie was replaced by Mavae Tomasi at halfback and Simon Fleetwood relieved tighthead Tama Tuirirangi.
After a dominant spell, Mid Canterbury allowed King Country back in to the contest as wing Lliesa Tavuyara put the hammer down to touch down under the posts for the visitor’s first try of the clash, and Tipping slotted his conversion.
With 10 minutes remaining, King Country began to play with a renewed sense of belief, and a slick offload from Te Waiti Mareikura released fullback James Hemara to dot down under the posts before converting his try with the last kick of the game.
Keenan said he was pleased that more players were able to get game time and to pick up a third successive win.
“I think it took us a little while to get in to the game, there were five personnel changes and one positional change from last week,” he said.
“We have to make those changes because as the competition goes on you need as many guys as possible with minutes under their belts.
“We had a good first 25 minutes in the first half and we let them back in a bit at the end, but we had some missed chances that could have really opened the flood gates.”
The defeat was King Country’s second of the season and assistant coach Gareth Williams believes his side’s basic errors proved costly.
“There were too many unforced errors and dropped balls and we couldn’t build up enough pressure.
“We thought we had a chance but the game hinged on that charge-down,” he said.
“If we had gone in to the sheds at 3-3 we would have had our tails up more in the second half, but really it was the errors that cost us, easy turnovers, dropped balls and penalties.”
Mid Canterbury 25 (E Scott, F Tuamoheloa, M Mudu tries; Scott 2 con, 2 pen)
King Country 17 (L Tavuyara, J Hemara tries; Tipping 2 con, pen)
HT: 13-3 Mid Canterbury.
– By James Ford http://www.guardianonline.co.nz/
Monday, September 7th, 2015