Renwick and Central were quickest out of the blocks when the 2020 race for the Tasman Trophy rugby competition began in the top of the south on Saturday.
Opening salvoes in the division one showpiece were fired in brilliant Marlborough early-autumn sunshine, Renwick accounting for Waitohi 40-22 at the Renwick Domain and Central downing Moutere 50-27 at Lansdowne Park.
Both games were typical early-season affairs, teams mixing moments of co-ordination and flair with periods of muddled play and inaccurate attack. The hefty scorelines suggested defence is a “work on”, an issue to be expected at this stage of the campaign.
Renwick have their eyes set on claiming a first Marlborough title and downing the defending champs first up is a step in the right direction, although the lop-sided score line on Saturday was hardly indicative of the tussle that ensued.
At halftime the game was in the balance, the Green Machine holding a tenuous 14-10 lead after both sides had scored twice.
However the break acted as something of a turning point, the home side quickly racking up 26 unanswered points to ensure the vocal home crowd went away happy. Renwick played a more expansive game, linking well between backs and forwards and denying Waitohi field position from where they could utilise their potent close-to-the-breakdown attack.
The Tohis underlined their renowned fighting spirit with two late tries to grab a four-try bonus point, but had to bow to a better team on the day.
Outstanding up front for the victors, who were without props George Tuineau and Quinn Harrison-Jones this week, were loosies Cody Weir, who scored a hat-trick of tries, and Kurt Schollum, plus prop Sione Lonitenisi and lock Jaydn Holdaway. The new 9/10 combination of halfback Ruairidh Swan and Alex Barnsley showed promise, especially given a better platform in the second spell, while midfielders Kyle Marfell and Pecili Denicaucau threatened throughout.
Taimi Fangatua, Corey McCaffery, Taine Cragg-Love, Andre Hebberd and Dylan Burns impressed up front for the visitors, who were missing Corey Bovey and Jack Evans, while halfback Saia Tokai, midfielder Nela Samita and newcomer Dylan McManaway shone in the backline.
Renwick’s head coach Glenn Blackmore was happy to grab a first-up win but quickly acknowledged it was only a small step along the way.
“Waitohi are obviously a tough challenge first up and they brought a lot of intensity, but our goal was to get off to a positive start and the scoreline reflected that.
“In the second half Jaydn [Holdaway] and Kurt [Schollum] really stepped up and I was happy with how our set pieces went, especially with a couple of front rowers away this week.”
Meanwhile at Lansdowne Park, the Blues opened up a handy lead against the Magpies and never relinquished it, although Moutere stayed in the fight to bag a bonus point for scoring four tries.
Central led 33-10 at halftime, scoring four tries and getting good value from lock Jone Lasaganibau, plus outside backs Nigel Satherley and Eseroma Wagalutu.
The second half was less decisive, being drawn 17-17, with the Magpies, who have had an off-season battle to get numbers on the park, battling back to grab their consolation point.
Coach Laurie McGlone was happy on three counts; they had good numbers available, his charges fought untilo the final whistle and, on a personal note, he didn’t have to step into the reserves as happened so often last season.
He pointed to skipper Luke Scott and halfback Tristan Taylor as their best performers.
Renwick 40 (Rurairidh Swan, Cody Weir 3, Sione Lonitenisi, Pecili Denicaucau tries, Alex Barnsley 5 con) Waitohi 22 (Saia Tokai, Nela Samita, Tiare Tautari, Taimi Fangatua tries, Dylan McManaway con). HT: 14-10 Renwick.
Central 50 (Jeremy Foley, Jone Lasaganibau, Liam Duncan, Eseroma Wagalutu, Samuela Levu, Jesse Eising, Nigel Satherley tries, Duncan 3 con, pen, Glen Smith 2 con, Gareth Smith con) Moutere 27 (Clyde Paewai, Kaleb Avery, Haven Walsh, Dan Monaghan tries, Monaghan con, Kieran Lloyd con, pen). HT: 33-10.
Other Tasman Trophy scores
Waimea Old Boys 55 Stoke 20
Kahurangi 32 Marist 32
Wanderers 37 Nelson 14