Redmen roll stopped in thriller at home
RUGBY UNION: McKimms Grafton Redmen have been the kings of the tight finish in recent games but the Hastings Valley Vikings ended their run at Rugby Park, South Grafton on Saturday.
In an epic contest, a makeshift Redmen side pushed the premiers to the limit but fell agonising short, going down 24-22.
With only minutes remaining on the clock Grafton had a chance to snatch victory but a desperate ankle-tap on Redmen winger Luke Butler saved the day for the visitors.
It was a classic duel punctuated by bruising defence and fierce forward exchanges.
The home side matched their more-fancied opponents in most departments but let themselves down in the set pieces. Hastings' scrum was far superior as was their lineout and they were able to starve Grafton of vital possession.
Redmen coach Ray Collie said lack of quality ball and a revamped backline had made the task more difficult.
"We had a lot of new combinations that we're trying out and they (Vikings) have been playing together for three or four years,” he said.
"They knew what to do to get themselves over the line and we're still learning that.
"I'm sure they knew they were in a game, it was very physical out there today.
"The first 20 minutes of the second half was the problem. They controlled the ball better than us. In saying that, I'm very proud of the way our boys fought back.”
Collie's decision to play Ed McGrath at inside centre paid dividends with the rangy former flanker at his rampaging best.
McGrath nullified the Vikings attack on several occasions with some stinging defence but it was his ability to get over the advantage line that caused the opposition plenty of headaches.
"I thought our tight five were all good today and Ed had a blinder for his first time playing in the centres,” Collie said.
Grafton will now set their sights on Southern Cross University in two weeks time after a general bye on the June long weekend.
Grafton second-grade side were once again impressive with Robbie Campbell starring in their 17-5 defeat of defending premiers Hastings.