Buller wrests shield off Coast

By Tui Bromley
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The one-liners flew thick and fast as glum West Coast rugby supporters filed out of Rugby Park, Greymouth, on Saturday after a rampant Buller team effortlessly uplifted the Seddon Shield with a 42-31 victory.
“Fiji 42, West Coast 31,” one wag said. “They (Buller) imported race horses, we imported draught horses,” another said. “Nelson (in reference to the Buller imports) won 42-31,” a third said.
All three opinions were partially correct. Fijians, and imports from Nelson, played a large part in the victory, but in truth it was West Coast’s abysmal defence — so strong last week against Marlborough, but almost totally absent on Saturday — that was to blame for the loss.
The defensive blunders were epitomised midway though the second half, when Buller lock Isei Lewaqai fielded a kick-off and ran through 99% of the Coast team without a hand being laid on him, before off-loading to fellow lock Morgan Eames, who touched down under the posts. The conversion gave Buller 14 points within two minutes.
The 11-point winning margin cannot paper over the cracks. Buller were superior in almost every facet of the game and only a lopsided penalty count in Coast’s favour (14-5 overall, and 7-1 in the second half), and several ‘non-tries’ saved the home team from total humiliation.
Buller were denied at least four further tries when players were called back for misdemeanours in the lead up. Coast’s usual workhorses — Ryan Kennedy, Alan Monk, Rowyn O’Gorman, Josh Hill and Brad Houston — again gave their all, and Tim Priest’s kicking kept the team in contention, but Buller fullback Iliesa Ravudra, centres Peni Nabainivalu and Mike Lealava’a, and wing Setefano Sauqaqa were just too big, quick and skilful for their opponents, cutting Coast to ribbons.
West Coast’s only saving grace was the rolling maul, which earned one try and almost led to another, but the backline lacked creativity and looked lead-footed in comparison with its opposition.
With former Whataroa man James Lash (Nelson) running riot, Buller led 20-16 at half-time. With two penalties, a try and a conversion to his name, Lash supplied 13 of his team’s points, but halfback Andrew Stephens took over the kicking when Lash retired injured, and added the extras when Ravudrau scored.
Priest had kicked three penalties and converted Alan Monk’s try to keep the Coast team in the hunt at the break. The try from a lineout maul came just before the break, when Coast ignored another kickable penalty and gambled instead on a try, which came courtesy of Houston’s clean lineout take and a concerted Coast drive.
Stephens and Priest swapped penalties early in the second spell before Lealava’a beat his man on the outside and put wing Scott Neighbours over in the corner. Stephens then silenced the oafish spectators, within touching distance, who were leaning over the fence shouting obscenities in his ear, by guiding the conversion through the uprights.
This took the score to 30-19, but only for as long as it took Priest to kick off and for Lewaqai, with Eames on his shoulder, to sprint 70m. Stephens’ conversion of Eames’ try made it 37-19, but replacement wing Gareth Price, who looked elusive when the ball came his way, dotted down to make it 37-24 with four minutes remaining.
It looked like Buller had the final say when Sauqaqa, again without a hand laid on him, scythed through from a scrum near the Coast line, but enough time remained for Priest to drop a cross-kick into the hands of fullback Robert Thompson, who crossed in the corner. Priest then converted from the sideline to reduce the losing margin to 11 points, but even the most parochial West Coast supporter would have to admit that the gulf between the two teams was much greater than that.
On this display, coaches Allan Lindsay and Sean Cuttance will have a struggle on their hands forging a team that will emulate last year’s Heartland Championship success.
Scorers: Buller 42 (J Lash, I Ravudra, S Neighbours, M Eames, S Sauqaqa tries, Lash pen, 2 cons, A Stephens 2 pens, 2 cons) West Coast 31 (A Monk, G Price, R Thompson tries; T Priest 4 pens, 2 cons).