Rundle returns after epic clash

Thrilling. Sensational. Emotional. These are some of the words used to describe one of the great Rundle Cup battles which played out on Saturday at John Sturgeon Park in Greymouth as Buller scored a try in injury time to claim an incredible 36-32 victory over West Coast.

Buller controlled the ball for 43 phases, with a man in the sin bin, for the remaining 7 minutes of the game to score the match winning try as Alex Lean found space on the right edge to beat one defender and score to an eruption of delight shared by the Buller side and their big group of supporters who made their way down State Highway 6 for the match.

Conditions and the playing surface were impeccable for the 225th meeting between these proud two unions, who also had valuable points on the line in round 4 of the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship.

West Coast flew out of the blocks early in the fixture scoring the opening 17 points of the game to stun Buller after 20 minutes. West Coast were dominating both possession and territory with five-eight Ben Wyness controlling play superbly for West Coast.

When Buller did finally get their hands on the ball, they managed to find space and create attacking opportunities. Lock Isei Lewaqai created the first try for Buller when he made a line break to get into the back field of West Coast. He was tackled inside the Coast 22m zone however, the big Fijian lock managed to offload the ball to Jack Parker who was following up closely behind who then brushed off a defender and scampered away to score. Parker was able to convert and then only minutes later kick a penalty goal to have the lead cut to 17-10 and have Buller back in the game.

With 2 minutes remaining in the first half, Wyness extended the West Coast lead kicking a successful penalty goal. From the kick-off, Buller were awarded a penalty in handy range to the posts. Captain Anthony Ellis decided to kick to the corner rather than take the shot and have a final chance of scoring a try before the halftime break. From the attacking line out, Buller formed a rolling maul and rumbled over the line with Ellis being the benefactor, scoring a crucial try to close the halftime gap to 20-15 to West Coast.

Buller would have been delighted to head into the sheds down only 5 points after trailing 17-0 midway through the first half. Their set piece was going extremely well, executing good lineout ball to attack from and having a solid foundation at scrum time.

West Coast again started strongly to open the second half. They were rewarded with an early try to their captain Elliott Smith. Much like the first half, Buller couldn’t get their hands on the ball, and they were conceding penalties to give the home side possession and territory.

A key point in the match occurred after 15 minutes of the second half when big West Coast number 8 Amenatave Tukana was yellow carded for a dangerous cleanout against Buller flanker Jamie Tinetti who was tackling for the ball. The numerical advantage reaped plenty of reward for Buller who made West Coast pay from the very next passage of play. Buller kicked to touch and then mauled the Coast pack back 20 metres before being rewarded with a penalty. Lewaqai chose to tap and go quickly and from the next phase, Thor Manawatu threw a lovely flat ball at the line to Michael Stringer who scored. Parker converted to have Buller behind just 25-22.

Buller now had huge momentum and looked threatening every time they had the ball. The were running the Coast defenders from side to side and making great metres. Iliesa Tora was really getting the Buller side moving, carrying the ball with venom, and creating great quick ball. As Buller entered the Coast red zone off the back of another Tora carry, they received a penalty which Parker had no hesitation in taking quickly. With West Coast back peddling, the ball found the hands of Lewaqai who scampered over to score his 5th try this season and take Buller into the lead for the first time in the match. Parker added an extra two points with a tough side-line conversion with plenty of local advice, to give Buller a 29-25 lead with 15 minutes remaining.

With Buller controlling most of the play, they were getting good gains from their replacement loan number 8 George Methven who was getting his hands on the ball on a regular basis. Called up for the injured Greg Foe, Methven found his feet in the second half and was a shining light for Buller as he recorded Buller’s first triple-double of the season with 17 carries, 10 tackles and 11 rucks cleaned.

Just as Buller looked as though they might take control of the game, they then found themselves a man down as Manawatu was yellow carded for a cynical penalty by not retreating 10 metres from a West Coast penalty. This gave Coast a boost who had largely been under the pump for the previous 15 minutes.

As Buller looked to defend with 14 men and a slight lead, an errant kick down the middle of the field gave West Coast a golden counter attacking opportunity to which they duly obliged. Their outside backs combined well to breach the Buller defence and it was replacement halfback Jamie Garland who found his way over the line and gave West Coast the lead back at 32-29 with just 8 minutes remaining.

What transpired from this point was simply incredible from a Buller perspective. With no halfback, they held possession and showed great patience and poise. The final passage of play had some superhuman efforts with replacement prop Stephen Crackett involved in 11 breakdowns, Kyle Te Tai, who had played the whole game, cleaning 10 rucks and Methven, who had his top ripped off him, carrying the ball 8 times during this final play. In the end, Buller player of the day Ellis, delivered a pinpoint pass from left to right to set free Lean who did the rest as the Buller players swamped each other amid jubilant scenes with raw emotion.

The front row of Tim Dallison, Ellis and Tapi Allen were again strong for Buller, with Crackett providing plenty of valuable impact from the bench. Ellis had a massive 80 minutes and got through a power of work, leading his side extremely well.  Lewaqai at lock is having a barnstorming season, creating so many attacking opportunities while new lock, Joel Everson, who was called in on just Friday was just the tonic to the Buller pack. The loose forward trio was huge. Te Tai and Tinetti were defensive rocks for Buller with the latter recording another impressive stat line of 23 tackles, 21 cleans, 45 total rucks hit and 5 jackal attempts. The final member of the trio, Methven, was simply superb.

In the backs, Cutbush and Manawatu delivered crisp service to their playmaker Jack Parker who again pulled the strings well. Logan Heath at second five eight had a terrific game, especially on defence recording some crucial tackles. His midfield partner Michael Stringer was another who stood out. The elusive centre is arguably one of the most impressive players in the competition who offers excellence, both with the ball and without. The two wingers again were a massive part of Buller’s success with Mitieli Kaloudigibeci a dominant force on defence while Tora was like a freight train on attack, carrying with purpose and beating 10 defenders. Fullback Jesse Pitman-Joass, who picked up a hamstring injury, was courageous and battled through well for Buller and played a pivotal role in the final stages getting into halfback. Replacements Joe Flexman, who made his first-class debut and man of the moment Lean provided strong impact from the bench.

The win consolidates Buller’s position near the top of the table as they look forward to two tough weeks against last years Meads Cup finalists Thames Valley and Lochore Cup winners Whanganui respectively. Perhaps a tougher challenge for Buller Rugby, might be returning the Rundle Cup back to the office after the Reefton players have offered to ‘take good care of it’ in the town of light.

Players of the day:
3-points Anthony Ellis
2-points Michael Stringer,
1-point Tapi Allen, George Methven and Kyle Te Tai

West Coast 32
(Elliott Smith 2, Joseph Scott, Jamie Garland tries;
Ben Wyness 3 con, pen; Logan Ross pen)

Francis Mining Buller 36
(Alex Lean, Jack Parker, Isei Lewaqai, Anthony Ellis,
Michael Stringer tries; Jack Parker 4 con, pen)

HT: 20-15