Thu, Mar 28, 2024 9:54 PM

Opening burst gets Blues home


Peter Jones

A compelling first quarter performance saw Central open their 2024 Tasman Trophy premier rugby campaign with a 19-10 win over Moutere at Lansdowne Park tonight.

The two-time defending champs were grateful for a fast start which saw them race out to a 19-0 advantage after just 16 minutes. At that stage it would have been a brave individual to suggest that would be the extent of their scoring for the remaining 64 minutes, but that is exactly what ensued.

From the opening whistle the Blues tore into their work, led by rampaging forwards Jesse MacDonald, Wayden Smith, Dusty Foley, Matt McCormick and Jack Powell, with powerful midfielders Ben Filipo and Jake Cresswell carrying hard out wider. Added to this was a dominant Central scum, forcing turnovers at set piece time and creating some serious go-forward.

The Magpies had no answer as Central ran through the phases, catching them out wide after just three minutes as McCormick surged over. A couple of turnovers later they were in again, this time through winger Koloa Fotu in the same left-hand corner. Their third try came from a regular source, player/coach Quentin MacDonald on the tail of an unstoppable lineout drive. Two of the tries were converted from out wide by first five Mitch Smith, propelling the Blues to a handy lead.

To their credit, the early onslaught merely stiffened Moutere’s resolve. They had the better of the latter stages of the first half, creating pressure on Central’s line and producing some timely turnovers of their own. Leading the Magpies’ comeback was loose forward Sekope Moli, his brother Monu Moli, hooker Johnny Vakaloa and lock Charles Tupoutoa, while the inside back combination of Bray Taumoefolau and Ben Finau began to dictate proceedings and midfielder Dylan McManaway and fullback Clyde Paewai also stood out.

Central fullback Jake Cresswell battles to break clear. 

Although Moutere were unable to reduce the deficit before halftime, they did not have to wait long after oranges to claw their way back into the game.

After just three minutes, player/coach Ben Finau, always an opportunist, snapped up a loose Central pass around the halfway mark and sprinted away to score in the corner. Although the conversion was unsuccessful, Moutere were buoyed by their first five-pointer of the new season and added their second six minutes later, some slick passing creating space out wide for replacement loosie Jack Burdon to gallop over. Again, the conversion was astray but Moutere were very much in the ascendancy, their ball carriers and tacklers both hitting harder than their opponents, and an upset looked on the cards.

However, Central know how to dig deep in this competition and did so, slowly reversing the momentum. Late in the match they had several golden opportunities to ice the game completely, plus pick up a bonus point for a fourth try but, through a combination of inaccuracy, impatience and early-season rustiness, failed to do so. They will be keen to smooth over some of the rough edges from their opening hit-out while figuring out how a side that can look so dominant for 20 minutes can become so disjointed soon after.

Moutere can take plenty of heart from their opening effort, especially against the defending champs. They showed they have the personnel and the game to take on anyone in the competition. Some tinkering up front, plus the return of a couple of key players, and the Magpies will surely become a force to be reckoned with.

Scores: Central 19 (Matt McCormick, Kaloa Fotu, Quentin MacDonald tries, Mitch Smith 2 con) Moutere 10 (Ben Finau, Jack Burdon tries). HT: 19-0

Other scores: Marist 29 Stoke 14; Waimea Old Boys 34 Nelson 19.

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