Eddie Cranston has been dropped to the bench for Saturday’s match. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

GARY CAFFELL

Wairarapa-Bush skipper Eddie Cranston is the main casualty from his team’s disappointing 38-12 beating by Horowhenua-Kapiti in their Heartland Championship rugby match played at Westpac Stadium last weekend.

In what head coach Joe Harwood concedes is a “massive call”, Cranston has been relegated to the reserves for the game with table toppers South Canterbury in Timaru this Saturday.

Cranston, who made the national Heartland XV last season, has been replaced on the side of the scrum by Epeli Rayaqayaqa who was not available for the Horowhenua-Kapiti fixture because his religious beliefs do not allow him to play on Sundays.

So impressive had Rayaqayaqa been in the previous matches against Buller however, both on attack and defence, that he was a near certainty to return for the Timaru game.

Which in turn, left a four-way battle for the other two loose forward spots between Cranston, Chris Raymond and Brendan Campbell, who all started at Westpac, and Tavita Isaac, who made a positive impact when he came off the bench there.

In the end it was Raymond and Campbell who got the nod with No 8 Campbell also being given the extra responsibility of captain, a role he has filled in recent games when Cranston has been off the field.

Coach Harwood admitted dropping Cranston did not come easy.

“It’s a massive call and it’s not because we haven’t been happy with Eddie, rather it’s because the competition in the loose forward area is so close and whoever missed out was going to be unlucky.”

The return of Matt Kawana at prop is another change to the pack which initially took the field last weekend and with hooker Sosaia Tufui not available because of a church commitment, James Pakoti will start there.

Promising Marist rake Ryan Hargood has been brought into the reserves and it will be his Heartland debut when he gets to join the fray.

In the backs the major talking point will be the positional change which sees Tipene Haira moved from fullback to first-five and Tim Priest from first-five to fullback.

The more popular choice if the inside back combination was to be rejigged would probably have been to have Inia Katia at halfback and Piri Weepu at first-five, but with the in-form Katia again on the bench Weepu has retained the No 9 jersey and Haira will be outside him.

Haira is, of course, no stranger to the first-five role and his hefty punting could certainly be a help against a South Canterbury side sure to test Wairarapa-Bush’s defensive strategies.

Priest is no newcomer to fullback either and Harwood sees his communication skills being of benefit there.

“Tim is one of our best communicators and we will be looking for a big contribution from him in that respect.”.

The other change in the backline comes on the wing with Soli Malatai, who made the most of his limited chances when he came off the reserve bench against Horowhenua-Kapiti, replacing Corey McFadzean.

Wairarapa-Bush squad: Tim Priest, Nikora Ewe, Robbie Anderson, Cyrus Baker, Soli Malatai, Tipene Haira, Piri Weepu, Brendan Campbell, Epeli Rayaqayaqa, Chris Raymond, Andrew McLean, Sam Gammie, Nick Hohepa, James Pakoti, Matt Kawana. Reserves: Ryan Hargood, Regan Pope, Eddie Cranston, Tavita Isaac, Inia Katia, Corey McFadzean, one to be added.