East Coast rally to beat Wanganui
East Coast pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks in a New Zealand provincial rugby final today to come back from 27-3 down against Wanganui to win 29-27.
Up until the last 20 minutes there seemed little chance of the big crowd in Ruatoria seeing a victory for the home side in the Meads Cup final, but as East Coast scored try after try, the impossible turned into a reality.
The win reverses the result of last year's final where Whanganui won and it is East Coast's biggest achievement since they won the NPC in 2000.
For most of the game Whanganui dominated the set pieces and the breakdowns, while East Coast's ill discipline constantly hindered them.
Both sides made numerous handling errors, but Whanganui just had that bit more structure to their game for the first hour, but when East Coast got their first try, they had a momentum that took them all of the way to victory.
There was little to suggest it would be such a thrilling game when Whanganui's Nick Harding landed a superb penalty from out wide to score the final's first points in the seventh minute.
Then lock Nick Cranston, who is part of the New Zealand Divisional team, scored a long range try to extend the visitor's lead.
Irishman John Semple halted the one-way scoring, by kicking a penalty for East Coast in the 22nd minute
Areta Lama's drop goal added to Whanganui's score while player of the match Rhema Sagote broke through the East Coast defence to score his side's second try, with Harding's conversion making the score 20-3 at the break.
East Coast's woes continued in the second half with halfback Charlie Harrison getting sin binned two minutes into the stanza.
Because of East Coast's situation they then resorted to playing high risk rugby, like running the ball out from behind their own goal line and when a turnover came from this tactic Asalemo Malo was eventually able to post Whanganui's third try.
But while Whanganui's Saul Chase was in the sin bin for making a late tackle without using his arms East Coast mounted a comeback, Tau Moeke and Ziggy Fisiihoi both scored tries and Semple's conversion made it a 10-point game with 16 minutes to play.
East Coast wing Mike King crashed over with six minutes to go and Semple's conversion set up an epic finish.
With the crowd spilling onto the field East Coast had a penalty 5m out with two metres to go, they went with a tap rather than go for the kick and Verdon Bartlett scored in the right corner, causing a mass pitch invasion.
There have been a few great days in the history of East Coast rugby and this win will be right up there with the best of them.
East Coast 29 (Tau Moeke, Ziggy Fisiihoi, Mike King, Verdon Bartlett tries; John Semple pen, 3 cons) Wanganui 27 (Nick Cranston, Rhema Sagote, Asalemo Malo tries; Nick Harding pen, 3 cons, Areta Lama drop goal). HT: 3-27.