Playing the unbeaten competition leaders four days after a tough win proved to be a bridge too far for a gutsy Te Awamutu Sports, going down 3-20 on Wednesday night in Waikato Premier rugby.
The score is somewhat unflattering considering the relatively even contest, with the visitors a little better at taking their chances to the tune of three tries, while Sports could only manage a solitary penalty to First five-eighths Logan Karl. To make the task harder, Sports were missing three key forwards starters, Locks Gelestino Kiutau, Kieran Westlake and prop Terrance Croonen, while last week’s man of the match Tairoa Crean was also out.
Otorohanga brought their typically bruising style of forwards play in spades, and Sports held up to the mark until the visitors finally broke the deadlock after 25 minutes, battering the Sports line around the fringes before sending the ball wide, an unfortunate slip in the defensive line being enough for the half break and try in the corner. A Te Amo Wilbore penalty goal pushed the lead to 8-0 in the closing moments of the first half before Karl answered back in kind, the score 8-3 at the break.
It was a first half dominated by ferocious defence from both sides, the huge Otorohanga forwards looking to gain ascendancy in close, while Sports scrambling defence and physicality at the breakdown held the visitors at bay. The scoreline an accurate depiction of a hard fought, defensive battle.
The visitors enjoyed the advantage in territory and possession and struck again early the second stanza, a rolling maul from an attacking lineout proving to be unstoppable close to the line, stretching the lead to 13-3.
Late in the piece, the powerful Otorohanga scrum proved too much, scoring a pushover try in the dying minutes to push the score out to 20-3.
Sports had their chances, and looked good with ball in hand, but will rue a few mistakes that cost points in good attacking positions, especially against the top sides where those chances don’t come often. Perhaps fittingly to close the match, with Sports hard on attack and pushing the defensive line, an error proved to be the final play in a game with plenty of positives to take away, but ultimately left thinking what could have been.
For Sports man of the Match J’ndre Liebenberg showed his growing promise in the midfield, after starting the year at first five-eighths. His hard running broke the line several times and his long punting game proving a perfect pressure release. Halfback Vavao Afemai was impressive also, proving to be a fourth loose forward against the powerful Otorohanga forwards while his quick passing gave precious time to the backs. In the forwards No.8 Fetu Sasalu’s hard running tested the visitors defence, while locks Josh Reynolds and JP Liebenberg challenged the big Otorohanga ball runners.
MVP Points: 3: J’ndre Liebenberg. 2: Vavao Afemai. 1: Josh Reynolds
Sports will hope the extended break will help clear up the casualty ward with a key fixture in the run to semi finals against University looming at Albert Park