Buller secure home victory over Wairarapa Bush

After two narrow losses at home this season, Buller has scored a thoroughly deserved 27-20 victory over Wairarapa Bush during round six of the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship last weekend. A good-sized local crowd was on hand to get Buller across the line at Victoria Square as the home side led from start to finish and secured a four try bonus point in the process.

Buller made the dream start when they were able to score inside the opening minute of play. From the whistle, Buller kicked deep and Wairarapa Bush had their clearing kick charged down by flanker Kyle Te Tai. The bobbling ball was regathered by prop Tim Dallison and Buller quickly moved the ball through their backline where centre Michael Stringer found space and set up winger Iliesa Tora to score and give the home side the perfect start. The try was a significant milestone for Tora who now moves into equal first place with Thomas Stuart as Buller Rugby’s all-time leading try scorer with 44 tries. Jack Parker was able to convert from the touchline to give Buller a 7-0 lead.

The fast start seemed to give Buller some added spark and they were looking sharp and connected in defence early in the match. Gaining his first start for the season, flanker Ben Pratt made a strong impact early and was rewarded with some excellent work over the ball and creating turnovers. Buller’s lead was extended to 10-0 after as many minutes when Parker knocked over a penalty to consolidate the excellent start.

A penalty goal to Wai Bush closed the gap momentarily before Buller landed another blow after 25 minutes when Parker strolled his way over the line and was able to convert to make the score 17-3. Playing under penalty advantage, Buller played with freedom close to the line. Impressive lock forward Caleb Havili drew in plenty of defenders and gave Parker some excellent front foot ball where he spotted a half gap and sliced through to give Buller a handy first half lead.

The Buller scrum was dominant through the first half, however Wairarapa were doing a great job of getting the ball out of the scrum before any infringement. The Buller lineout wasn’t as convincing as they struggled to win their own ball through the first 40 minutes which was stymieing their attacking opportunities.

The last scoring play of the first half went to Wairarapa when their impressive fullback Jayden Keelan made a break and sprinted his way towards the corner flag. Buller winger Blaine Meikle who was covering from the other side of the ground made a great effort to force the ball clear of Keelan’s grasp and what appeared like an obvious knock on to all around the ground, it was controversially given as a try. This closed the gap to 17-8 at halftime with Buller’s dominant half being marred by the final closing minutes.

The second half started well for Buller as they continued to spread the ball to the edges and find space in the Wairarapa defence. Te Tai made a telling break inside the opposition red-zone and fellow loose forward George Reeves was able to capitalise from the field position as he picked the ball from the base of a ruck to dive over and score to extend the Buller lead to 22-8.

Any chance of a breakout margin was quickly stifled by Bush when they were able to score off the back of a quick tap and go close to the line. Buller were unable to stop the Bush captain Sam Gammie as he barged over close to the posts to reduce the margin to just 7 points as Buller led 22-15 with 25 minutes remaining.

Buller were still creating good attacking chances and they were able to land a huge blow shortly after the hour mark. With fresh legs on the park, reserve fullback Jesse Pitman-Joass made a welcome return when he made a clean line break from inside his own half to then set up winger Meikle in space. With still plenty of work to do, Meikle was able to beat the final defenders as he went over to score and cap off an excellent game for the young winger. The lead was now 27-15 and just 17 minutes remaining.

As the game entered the final 10 minutes, Bush were able to set up a tense finish when they went the length of the field to score an excellent try. Again, it was fullback Keelan who did the damage and this time he found great support in right winger Nikora Ewe who scored to close the margin to 7 points.

Buller went close to sealing the game when Tora was held up over the line, but in the end Wairarapa Bush were unable to exert any pressure in the Buller half as the local sides defence stood tall in the final stages to lock in their first competition win of the season.

It was a fitting result for the side, who had been deserving of a victory after a string of narrow losses. It was also a great result for the team who were celebrating a special milestone for their coach Nathan Thompson, who brought up 100 games in Buller Heartland management, first starting in 2011. The team now prepare for the triple header clash at Apollo Projects Stadium in Christchurch as the Rundle Cup goes on the line against old foe West Coast.

Referee: Ben Alexander (Tasman)