Poverty Bay have won the inaugural Bill Osborne Taonga challenge to be the first holders of the newly formed Heartland competition trophy and finish their season fifth.
After a tense back-and-forth 80 minutes of rugby against Mid Canterbury, Civil Project Solutions Poverty Bay emerged victorious, 33-26.
Neither team could build a significant advantage in an arm-wrestle for momentum at Rugby Park yesterday.
The game’s largest lead was 14 points for Poverty Bay late in the piece after Mid Canterbury were reduced to 13 men.
The decisive moment came in the 60th minute, with Mid Canterbury down by nine points and hot on the attack; prop Adam Williamson was red-carded after headbutting Poverty Bay halfback Mario Counsell.
After missing a wayward pass in first receiver, Williamson continued running his line and barrelled into Counsell before the pair shared some words that the big prop did not take kindly to. He walked around the ruck and headbutted Counsell in front of referee Tipene Cottrell, who immediately stopped play to give him his marching orders.
Mid Canterbury’s issues were compounded when first five-eighth George Williams was given an early shower when he was yellow-carded with 10 minutes to play for a lazy tackle attempt around the neck of Bay captain and first five-eighth Kelvin Smith.
The resulting penalty gave Poverty Bay the field position for reserve prop Jarryd Broughton to barrel over the line and give his team an unassailable 11-point lead.
The red- and yellow-card upheavals shouldn’t detract from the effort of the Poverty Bay team to avenge their golden-point loss to Mid Canterbury a month ago. When it counted, they played their best game of rugby this season.
Mid Canterbury’s red and yellow cards seemed to arise from frustration at their lack of success.
They mounted some strong attacks from the base of their set-piece, but could find the try-line only twice as they had to keep the scoreboard ticking over with help from the consistent boot of second five-eighth Tom Reekie.
Reekie scored 16 points from the tee with 100 percent accuracy — three penalties were from over 40 metres out — but it wasn’t enough to secure the win.
Poverty Bay had taken the lead with an early try through prop James Higgins and held on to their advantage for the remainder of the game despite Mid Canterbury fighting to keep themselves in the game.
When Smith converted a penalty to increase his team’s lead to 14 points with less than 10 minutes to play, the result was all but sealed.
Mid Canterbury scored with minutes on the clock to keep their chances alive, but it was too little too late as Poverty Bay held on to end their season victorious.
The spoils of victory include being the first holders of the Bill Osborne Taonga, which will act as Heartland rugby’s version of the Ranfurly Shield.
They will also be the first team to have the honour of holding the Taonga over the summer break.
With ball in hand, Poverty Bay had looked dangerous and their kicking game from the likes of Smith, Andrew Tauatevalu and Paoraian Manuel-Harman kept them with good field position.
Despite the afternoon heat and a strong breeze that looked to tire both teams towards the end of the game, every player fought to the final whistle in a true display of rugby grit.
Poverty Bay captain Kelvin Smith put on a sling for the trophy ceremony then headed to the hospital with a suspected broken forearm.
Five minutes from time, Smith had come reeling out of a tackle attempt clearly injured, but immediately got back into the defensive line to help see his team across the finish line.
The determination to play for each other was something that co-coach Tom Cairns said he was most proud of when he reflected on the season.
“We’re really proud of the boys. They’re a quality bunch of guys and they deserve some silverware out of this season.
“They made a bit of history out there (by winning the Bill Osborne Taonga).”
Cairns said the individual development of several players stepping into leadership roles in the team this season had been the core of their success.
He mentioned Dan Law, stepping into lock after a season playing loose forward, and Stefan Destounis, leading by example.
“Look at a player like (flanker) Quade Tapsell . . . he should be playing Super Rugby.”
Co-coach Miah Nikora said he was impressed with how the players lifted their game another step following a tough match last weekend.
The mental frame of mind required for finals football was a different beast and the team met the challenge head-on, he said.
“They put their bodies on the line. There’s been a saying all season for us: ‘be your brother’s keeper’. That came up again before the game today and the guys really took that on board.”
He thought the team were a bit unlucky not to have been ahead by more at halftime after having such a strong first 40 minutes but he said it made for an exciting finish to the game.
“It ebbed and flowed. The boys had to work hard and score some good tries.”
Poverty Bay 33
(James Higgins, Jarryd Broughton 2, Stefan Destounis tries; Kelvin Smith 3 pen; Smith 2 con).
Mid Canterbury 26
(Carisbrook Toomalatai, Raitube Vasurakuta tries; Tom Reekie 4 pen; Reekie 2 con).
HT: 13-10 (Poverty Bay).