By Justin Miezenbeek
Te Awamutu Sports got themselves back in the winners circle, coming from behind to score a thrilling 35-30 victory over Southern United in Waikato Premier Rugby.
With a trend of starting strong and fading late, Sports flipped the script, chasing down the visitors after being down 15-27 with 15 minutes to play.
Evaan Reihana and Kane Adams traded early penalty goals to a 3-3 deadlock before a mistake clearing their 22 from Southern was pounced on by winger Maxime Laforgue to score, converted by Reihana for a 10-3 lead.
Southern soon found their feet, and their dominance in the forwards slowed the game down, controlling possession and were rewarded with a pushover try to tie the game again.
Sports looked dangerous when they had the ball, but were working with scraps and when they got their hands on it they couldn’t keep it. Southern rode that wave to another try beside the posts and a 17-10 lead.
Sports got a key turnover hard on defence and returned it back with interest, fullback Dylan Vea-Te Whare finishing off a try that went the length of the field. The hosts behind 15-17 heading into the break. Southern however struck with an overlap in the left corner before the break, leaving Sports down 15-24 at half time.
Sports needed to start the second half well and finish strongly but struggled in the third quarter with errors and turnovers ruining attacking chances and a mounting penalty count gifting Southern field position.
Defensively they held strong, letting in only an Adams penalty goal to trail 15-27 with 15 minutes to go but looking a distant second. Making the task tougher was losing inspirational skipper Jono Armstrong to a broken nose and flanker Josh Reynolds to a shoulder injury.
In the time where Sports historically wilted, they grew another leg and swung the momentum when man of the match Cameron Moorby intercepted, running 35 meters to score under the post. Down 22-27 with 10 minutes to go, the crowd grew louder and two 50-meter penalty goals from Reihana gave Sports the lead with 5 minutes to go 28-27.
Southern threw everything at Sports in those final minutes but they held strong, Simione Uluirasa broke down the left had flank from a turnover and crashed over the line under the attention of the visitors defence. Adams slotted a penalty deep in injury time to salvage a deserved bonus point for Southern.
There were top performers all over the park for Sports, hooker Moorby scoring the man of the match for his efforts while Jack Munce was again a force with ball in hand and around the fringes. Veteran loosie Matthew Towers stepped up into the captains role and steered the ship home while Uluirasa was strong at lock and filling in at No.8. Vavao Afemai looked slick in his return while Reihana was outstanding off the tee with 6 from 7.
Next week has Hinuera coming to town, Sports looking to string back to back wins.