Tasman Griffins overwhelm Buller in outstanding second half onslaught
What better way to head into the South Island rugby championship than to put a half century of points on a respectable Heartland outfit.
The Tasman Griffins stepped up a gear from the previous week's Seddon Shield win over West Coast to overwhelm Buller 57-14 in Murchison on Saturday.
And although the shield wasn't at stake this time, the Griffins eventually buried Buller in a 43-point second half onslaught, including seven tries, to end the match with nine after leading just 14-7 at the break.
The Griffins' second half performance in particular was just the tonic they needed ahead of next Saturday's South Island championship opener against Canterbury Metro at Trafalgar Park.
It also helped ease the frustrations of a galling first half in which a barrage of penalty concessions by the Griffins helped keep Buller firmly in the contest.
The Griffins spent much of the first half on defence as they continued to infringe at the breakdown, the penalty count staggeringly favouring Buller 10-1 with seven minutes of the half remaining. The irony was palpable then when halfback Jack Kohler scored from just their second penalty near Buller's line to put the Griffins ahead 14-7 just before halftime.
Substitute winger Stein Schreiber and Buller No 10 James Lash had traded tries earlier in the piece, Schreiber capping off a superb counter-attack from a turnover inside the Griffins' quarter and Lash simply stealing the ball as the Griffins' backs attempted another attack from near their own line.
Griffins' head coach Dan Perrin said that some halftime recalibrations concerning the breakdowns ultimately helped turn the tide. And once into gear, the Griffins simply proved too slick for Buller as the floodgates eventually opened.
"Once we adjusted to that, that took the referee out of it and I think we only gave away two penalties in that second half," Perrin said.
And with a more steady flow of possession, the Griffins eventually ran riot, including scoring their last four tries in a crippling nine-minute assault during the final quarter.
"We probably relied on that wind in the first half, thinking that was going to do the trick for us." Perrin said.
"I think the attitude and endeavour was there, but it just clicked in that second half for us.
"Once we got into our shape and backed ourselves, our decision-making was a lot more accurate and I think that paid dividends in the second half."
Lock Sam Liebezeit ignited the spark with a try just five minutes after the restart. Others quickly followed as midfielder James Hawkey, fullback Andrew Knewstubb (twice), winger Tomas Aoake, Schreiber and midfielder Chris Kerslake completed the rout.
It wasn't entirely one-way traffic, Buller scoring a superb set piece try when winger Mo Tau sliced through untouched from a scrum midway through the half. Otherwise, it was all-out attack by the Griffins as their talented backline piled on the points.
While the backs dominated the scoresheet, Perrin justifiably pointed to the efforts of his hard-working forward pack as the catalyst for their second half resurgence.
"A lot of that groundwork comes from the forwards and I thought the tight five were outstanding today and the loose forwards Gabba [Jacobus De Kock] and [Dan] Hytongue were working outstanding together."
De Kock had another powerful performance with ball in hand, including the initial line break that led to Schreiber's first half try. Liebezeit also backed up from his impressive efforts against West Coast with another strong performance.
In the early game, the Tasman Red Devils beat West Coast 31-17.
AT A GLANCE
Tasman Griffins 57 (Stein Schreiber 2, Andrew Knewstubb 2, Jack Kohler, Sam Liebezeit, James Hawkey, Tomas Aoake, Chris Kerslake tries, Eli Kneepkens 4 con, Morne van de Berg 2 con) Buller 14 (James Lash, Mo Tau tries, Lash 2 con) HT: 14-7.