Prop pulls Upper Clutha out of tight spot to clinch win

It is rare for a powerhouse prop to be the leading try scorer in a premier club competition, but that is Ben McKeich’s claim after he hoisted Upper Clutha out of a tight spot against Maniototo in Saturday’s White Horse Trophy challenge match at Wanaka.

Upper Clutha fans were becoming anxious when Maniototo led 20-19 with 18 minutes to play in damp, slippery conditions.

But after Brady Kingan put the trophy holders in front with a penalty goal, McKeich powered across for his second try of the afternoon — and fourth in two weekends — to ensure the much-prized trophy would not be leaving town just yet, Upper Clutha eventually winning 29-23 after Maniototo slotted a last-minute penalty goal for a bonus point.

Upper Clutha coach Alex Dickson admitted discipline made his team’s challenge that much harder on Saturday.

"I always felt we were capable of scoring the try that would secure the game, but penalties were killing us. It was a relief when Ben finally scored to put us more than seven points in front."

Dickson was full of praise for Maniototo’s performance.

"They were determined to get that cup. We struggled for momentum at times with the greasy ball."

Upper Clutha’s man of the match award went to lock Andrew Horne.

Dickson’s team hold a one-point advantage in the competition over Wakatipu, who downed Arrowtown 27-19 in a rousing local derby that attracted a huge crowd to Jack Reid Park.

The teams were locked together at 5-5, 12-12 and 19-19 before Wakatipu flanker David Fraser scored the decider 17 minutes from time with Logan Beggs adding a penalty goal in the final moments of a rip-roaring encounter.

Having Malcolm Sutherland back at lock ensured Arrowtown had ample possession, which they put to good use, all three of their tries coming from front rowers Joji Ravula and Ben Carr.

Locals sensed an upset victory was possible but replacement halfback James Valentine swung the gamer Wakatipu’s way. He scored a stunning try and sharpened up his team’s attacking prowess after joining in when the game was locked up at 12-12.

Wakatipu’s other backline star was flying winger Conner Hamlin, a new addition from Lincoln, who made it three tries in two Saturdays, to the delight of coach Jordan Manihera.

"He’s a freak", Manihera said. "Someone who can turn a game with his speed and skill."

Wakatipu will host Upper Clutha at Queenstown in what promises to be an epic encounter next Saturday.

Alexandra rebounded from their hiding from Upper Clutha with a six-try, 40-0 thumping of Matakanui Combined at Molyneux Park and sit comfortably in third place.

— Bob Howitt