It had been a long time between drinks, but the Westport rugby team finally got the “monkey off its back” after 15 years of trying at the weekend. Going into Saturdays Buller Rugby Senior Shield match on Victoria Square as favourites after an unbeaten Buller club year, Westport won in an overwhelming fashion by 52 – 24. It last won the Shield in 2003, but in 2018 proved to be a more than worthy winner.
There was no doubt that Westport had prepared well for the final. They had obviously studied their opposition after the semi final game and come up with a game plan to shut them down. They were also very disciplined in their general play, getting their opponents to commit mistakes then pouncing and creating scoring opportunities.
A very good crowd had gathered for the match, which was played in sunshine on a slightly damp surface that caused no problems to the players.
The opening half was played at a frenetic pace. From the first blast of the whistle it was all White Star as they made the most of a Westport kick off mistake. One off running from Logan Mundy, Ropati Matangi, Warwick Knox and Jeff Lepa had Westport stretched on defence. Standing up in the Westport defensive line was Zach Walsh, Javorn Walter and Kahu Parata. They met the head-on charges with around the boot laces tackling where Kyle Te Tai and Peter Foote were there to try to rob the ball. The opening points came when a clever kick from Star half back, Callum Lennon, bounced nicely for winger Dylan Rusbatch to score after 6 minutes. With the conversion from Sam Marris White Star led 7-0.
White Star would not have been happy with their play after this as mistakes, and missed tackles, saw Westport come back with two tries to Mitieli Kaloudigibeci to regain the lead at 14-7 and half time on the clock. Kaloudigibeci’ s first try, the first of four for him in the game, was a lovely inside pass from Andrew Norton – Taylor which saw him slice straight through the White Star defence. The last seconds of the half though had White Star scoring through a solo effort from hooker Warwick Knox who struggled through players for 25 metres to score. At 14-12 at the break the Senior Shield was any-ones to win.
In this half the Westport backs, led by captain Andrew Norton-Taylor, Tuk Samuels and Pat Sakuru had kept the Star backs under control. John Noble had tried to get clean running ball to Mafi Taiulu-Feso and Illiesa Ravudra, but they were cut down by either their opposites or the Westport lose forwards. When Star turned their ball over to Westport it was the boot of Norton – Taylor or Scott Neighbours who cleared it down field. This solid defence was instrumental in Westport’s victory as White Star were held up on six occasions as they tried to score as the whole Westport side put their body on the line.
It was a dream start for the “amber and black” to the second half. Within the space of the opening seven minutes Westport had run in three tries, two of them converted to suddenly lead 33-12, and it was game over. These came about from White Star mistakes and Westport quick thinking as Westport lifted the pace of the match. Kaloudigibeci, outstanding again in this match, and fullback Joel Hands stood out in this burst as Westport took the game away from White Star.
Further Star mistakes, caused by trying to play catch up rugby, saw Westport score twice more, and with 15 minutes still left to play Westport had the Shield tucked away at 52-12. At this point White Star had given away 38 unanswered points in the second half and had yet to set foot inside the Westport 22 metre mark.
Credit must go to White Star though as they refused to lie down and did finally sling a movement together that saw No 8 Lepa score. It was Star who also had the final say when hard working prop/lock Jesse Loughnan intercepted a Westport pass 45 metres out from the try line and set sail for the goal line. His try, and Marris’ conversion brought the final score to 52-24, and a well -deserved win to Westport.
Having twelve tries scored in the match showed the openness of the game as the two sides tried to gain ascendancy. It was Westport though who played to a better game plan for the whole match and ended with the victory. Not only did they win the Senior Shield, Westport also held on to the Challenge Trophy, giving them a clean sweep of all Buller Rugby’s major trophies for 2018. This was certainly a stellar season for coach Hugh McMillan, captain Andrew Norton – Taylor and all the Westport squad.
The game was well controlled by referee Phil Grafton and his TA’s Andrew Duncan and Morgan Newburry.
Westport Points: Mitieli Kaloudigibeci 4, Joel Hands 2, Javorn Walter, Western Hemi. Andrew Norton – Taylor 6 conversions.
White Star Points: Dylan Rusbatch, Warwick Knox, Jeff Lepa, Jesse Loughnan. Sam Marris 2 conversions.
Players of the Day.
Westport: Kyle Te Tai. Runner Up. Joel Hands.
White Star: Jesse Loughnan. Runner Up. Sam Marris.