Electro Services Buller have eased passed East Coast in Ruatoria on Saturday with a commanding 54-17 win. They picked up a maximum 5 competition points on route to an emphatic 8 tries to 3 victory. Captain Andrew Stephens, midfielder Mike Lealava’a and winger Iliesa Ravudra grabbed a brace of tries each whilst Mitre 10 Heartland Championship points leader James Lash collected a haul of 19 points scoring a try and kicking 7 conversions.
It was indeed Buller who made a fast start to the game through Lealava’a, who crossed within the first 5 minutes before Lash bagged his 5th try of the competition with an all too familiar chip and chase which saw him dot down under the sticks just 5 minutes later.
East Coast did manage to get on the board within the first quarter when their lively halfback caught the Buller side napping after taking a quick tap. Order was quickly restored however when Lealava’a scored his second try, being the benefactor of a brilliant offload by Pat Saukuru to extend the lead to 21-7 just 25 minutes into the match.
Buller’s set piece was dominant, winning quality line-out ball and monstering the East Coast scrum. Front rowers, Stephen Crackett, Anthony Ellis and Glen Duncan, who was a late starter due to an injury in the warm up to Jareth Mackay, will be proud of their work in the engine room against some big East Coast men. The Buller side looked lethal with ball in hand, their shape and structure near exemplary which was wearing their counterparts down.
The final 6 minutes of the half saw Buller crash over two more times. The first of those tries was an absolute screamer as tearaway loose forward Blair McIlroy made a break and put some handy footwork on his opposition to set the Buller side on attack. The play then went through 6 sets of hands with brilliant interplay and support culminating in a spectacular try to the skipper Stephens, who strolled through to score under the black dot. Stephens may have missed his connecting flight to Ruatoria but he certainly didn’t miss his second try of the match right on the stroke of half-time. Buller had peppered the line before the skipper then sold a dummy to go through untouched and cap off an excellent first 40 minutes to lead 35-7 at the break.
The second half began well for the home side with fullback Kris Palmer scoring a long range try down their left-hand flank. Buller were quick to dispel any ideas of a comeback however with a pair of tries to Ravudra in the 50th and 57th minute respectively.
The game became a little discombobulated towards the back end of the match with both teams clearing the benches and testing new combinations. Logan Mundy returned from a long injury spell with all fingers intact, Kahu Parata got 30 minutes at openside flanker whilst the skipper Stephens earnt a well-earned rest with Sam Marris taking over the halfback duties. Josh Hedley, Corey Jenkins and debutant Alex Paterson all got their first Ruatoria experience in the half as well.
Both teams did trade tries in the final 5 minutes with East Coast crashing over in the corner before Parata crossed for the Buller side in the game’s final act to seal an important 54-17 victory. Lash’s 7th conversion of the match tied a Buller record for most conversions in a match, ironically, his own record set in 2014.
Coaches Craig Scanlon and Craig Neill will be pleased with some of their combinations, particularly the midfield combinations of Saukuru and Lealava’a who were yet to play together in a starting role all season. Saukuru showed some nice touches with deft offloads whilst Lealava’a was busy and his workrate would have pleased the coaches. In the forwards, the presence of McIlroy was immense. Despite not playing the previous two weeks, McIlroy looked sharp and his defensive work throughout the entire match was a point of difference. Robbie Bonisch was another to show an excellent work-rate and his combination with Jeff Lepa continues to grow.
Buller will be pleased to have secured 10 points in the past two weeks following their only loss of the campaign to Thames Valley. They have two very tough matches to finish off the round robin phase of the competition, with an away game to Mid Canterbury this weekend before rounding off the regular season at home to the high flying Horowhenua-Kapiti.
East Coast 17 (Neihana Ratahi-Brown, Kris Palmer, Sailosi Vatubua,tries ; Kris Palmer, conversion)
Buller 54 (Andrew Stephens 2, Michael Lealava’a 2, Iliesa Ravudra 2, James Lash, Kahu Parata; Lash 7 con)
Whakarua Park Ruatoria