Heartland Championship 
August 20, 2022, 2:30 pm
Buller RU
34 - 29
Mid Canterbury
Victoria Square Westport
Buller RU
Referee: George Haswell

Match Report

1043 day drought broken

Francis Mining Buller have made the best possible start to their Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship campaign with a highly impressive 34-29 win over Mid Canterbury on Saturday. Buller, who last won a game 1043 days ago, were not expected to cause too many problems against a formidable Mid Canterbury side, however the home side produced a determined and courageous 80 minutes of rugby in front of a healthy local crowd.

Conditions were near perfect for the match on Victoria Square, despite the rain that had fallen during the week. Buller had a disruptive training week due to the state of emergency in the region with the team only able to get out on the grass for a training run the night before.

From the opening whistle, there was a real presence about the Buller side who had come ready to take it to the visitors. Both teams had early opportunities through line breaks, but it was Buller who landed the first blow when five-eight Jack Parker put in an attacking grubber kick close to the line. It looked as though Parker would win the race, however the ball bobbled free from a Mid Canterbury defender and the ever-present openside flanker Jamie Tinetti was on hand to score the try and open the scoring. Parker converted to give Buller a 7-0 lead.

Mid Canterbury landed their first points on the quarter hour mark to close the gap to 7-3 with a penalty goal to five-eight Tom Reekie. They then took the lead moments later when a defensive kick was allowed to bounce from Buller which allowed Mid Canterbury to rush through, grab possession and score down the right flank. Reekie was the benefactor of the try and his own conversion gave the hammers a 10-7 lead.

Buller regained the lead after 35 minutes when winger Mitieli Kaloudigibeci scored in the right-hand corner. Buller backs Michael Stringer, Logan Heath and Jack Parker all combined well to find the space for Kaloudigibeci who brushed off two defenders to score. Parker converted from the touch line to give Buller a 14-10 lead.

With time expired on the clock for the first half, the hammers were awarded multiple penalties for Buller infringements. Turning down the points at goal, Mid Canterbury rolled the dice with a lineout and were rewarded when their skipper Adam Williamson barged his way over to give the visitors a 17-14 lead at the break.

Buller would have been pleased with their set piece at the break. The scrum was performing well with Stephen Crackett, Anthony Ellis and Tapi Allen up front getting through a power of work. It was the lineout where Buller were having a field day. Lock Alex Grogan was instrumental in winning multiple lineouts against the throw for the home team. His locking partner Isei Lewaqai was also pilfering ball, giving Buller plenty of possession to play with.

Buller didn’t have to wait long after the break to regain the lead when Parker produced some magic of his own to score a brilliant solo try. The pivot received the ball 40 metres from try line, spotted two tight forwards in the backline and used his pace to glide through. He then stepped his way past two cover defenders and chipped a deft kick over the fullback to regather near the dead ball line to score. His conversion pushed the lead to 21-17 after 42 minutes.

The Buller team were looking excellent with ball in hand. The locking pair of Grogan and Lewaqai were outstanding. Grogan, with his direct carries always gave Buller front foot ball while Lewaqai was ranging about, freeing his arms for offloads and providing support runners with gaps to run into. Parker pushed the lead to 24-17 with a penalty after 50 minutes before Lewaqai crossed the line to score in the left-hand corner. The try had come from a lineout for Buller who took play from one side of the field to the other where Lewaqai found himself one on one with a Mid Canterbury defender who he sailed by to score right in the corner. This gave Buller a 29-17 lead.

At this point, Buller had done well to create a buffer on the scoreboard. The hammers weren’t done with though as they injected fresh legs to the game and in particular their star signing of former international and Highlander Nasi Manu. As they gained more possession, they were benefiting from Buller infringing often. In the end, referee George Haswell lost patience with the home team and it was the skipper Anthony Ellis who was asked to have 10 minutes in the sin bin. Mid Canterbury took full advantage of the numerical advantage and scored twice in this period to suddenly have the game back at 29-29 with 10 minutes remaining.

All of the momentum was with Mid Canterbury who were getting good gains with ball in hand. Just when it looked like the hammers might take the lead for the first time since the first half, it was that man Lewaqai who came up with a heads up play to intercept a pass right on the Buller line to halt the Mid Canterbury attack. From there, Buller worked their way down field and found themselves with an attacking lineout inside the Mid Canterbury 22m line. Buller won the ball and set up a maul, driving towards the line when Lewaqai spotted space on the blindside to detach from the maul and score his second try next to the left-hand corner post. This gave Buller a 34-29 lead with 6 minutes left in the game.

Tension was high in the closing stages as Mid Canterbury continued to apply pressure and look to steal a victory. With time up, Mid Canterbury had one final attacking raid with a lineout 20 metres from the Buller line. In a crucial moment that was befitting of the way to close the match, lock Grogan got up ahead of his opposite to steal the lineout ball. Brett Cutbush on debut had great delight in booting the ball down towards the floating basin to secure Buller a huge victory in front of a very jubilant crowd.

It was a game that was hard to pinpoint individual performances as all players put in a mighty effort. Parker guided the ship extremely well and showed some outstanding touches of class. Lewaqai was simply incredible with ball in hand and his brace of tries in the second half were timely and richly deserved. Number 8 Greg Foe on debut for Buller was brilliant on attack, showing power but also a great ability to shift the ball. Tinetti and fellow flanker Kyle Te Tai defended their hearts out and also scored crucial turnovers.

In the backs, Reefton halfbacks Thor Manawatu and Cutbush complemented each other well while Jesse Pitman-Joass got involved at every opportunity and made a crucial tackle in the closing stages. Alex Lean was strong when he came off the bench while the Fijian wingers Kaloudigibeci and Tora carried the ball with venom every time of asking. Logan Heath and Michael Stringer showed they are building a great partnership, with their distribution skills setting up a quality try.

It was a great start to the competition for Buller. They executed a well thought out game plan to deconstruct a good quality Mid Canterbury team. Buller captain Anthony Ellis reflected after the game by saying “I am extremely proud of this team, we fought hard for each other and our community today, the boys thoroughly deserved this win”.
The team now heads away on one the competition’s toughest road trips, when they take on perennial competition heavyweights North Otago in Oamaru on Saturday.

Players of the day –
3 points Jack Parker
2 points Isei Lewaqai
1 point Alex Grogan


Name TR CON PEN DG Cards
0987 Anthony W. Ellis (c)
Yellow Card
1049Placeholder Tapi Allen
5 2
7 1
1050Placeholder Greg Foe
10 1 3 1
14 1


Name TR CON PEN DG Cards
1016Placeholder Peter Foote Kyle J.S. Te Tai
1056Placeholder Ehipa Thompson Stephen Robert Crackett
1027Placeholder Ben R. Pratt Kyle J.S. Te Tai
1055Placeholder Brett Cutbush Thor H. Manawatu
1031Placeholder Alex Lean Michael Stringer