By Justin Miezenbeek
Te Awamutu Sports hung on in the face of a furious comeback to hand Taupiri their first loss of the season, almost blowing an 18 point lead in the last 15 minutes to win 33-32 in Waikato Championship rugby.
Sports rode the boot of young fullback Logan Karl, whose man of the match performance netted him four penalty goals and two conversions aided by three tries, two of which were opportunistic intercept tries from winger Shauncy Waho to race out to a commanding 33-15 lead, only to lose their way as Taupiri stormed back into the game.
The early stages were completely dominated by the hosts, Karl breaking out from the first play of the game, netting an attacking lineout. The ensuing rolling maul saw Fetu Sasalu break off the back and waltz over untouched to score in the first three minutes. Karl converted from out wide for the early lead.
Karl traded penalties with Taupiri fullback Dean Fullerton to a 13-3 scoreline before the visitors forwards hard work in close created an overlap for winger Waisale Takabulabula to close the gap to five points.
Sports relished the increase of intensity and shook off an underwhelming previous two weeks to knock back the visitors every chance they got. Taupiri, searching for answers, began to force the issue giving Waho the chance to sniff and intercept to race away to score. Another Karl penalty gave Sports a healthy 23-8 lead at half time.
Karl potted another penalty goal to stretch the lead by three points before a breakdown at lineout time gifted Taupiri a try to pull the score back to 26-15.
Taupiri threw all they had at the Sports defence again, and it was Waho on hand to pick a wide pass out of the air in his own half to race away for his second.
At 33-15 with fifteen minutes left the game looked sewn up and Sports seemingly sat on their lead and dropped a gear, while Taupiri went up another in their desperation and that, coupled with some ill discipline saw Taupiri score three more tries and almost pull off an unlikely upset.
Bar the last quarter, Sports lifted their game to dominate the pace setters. Karl was outstanding while Caleb Loomans continues to grow in midfield against tough opponents. Waho continues to look more at home, a danger every time he touched the ball. In the forwards, Sasalu relished the increase in physicality and prop Bailey Oliedam was outstanding all round and anchoring a scrum which alongside Gordon Fullerton, destroyed the visitors. Locks Thomas Brown and Patrick O’Sullivan controlled the lineouts while loosies Matthew Towers and Connor Loomans got through a mountain of work in close.
Sports play host again next week with Matamata Sports coming to town, looking to hold onto their outright first spot.