Eddie Cranston (front) will be in the midfield for Wairarapa-Bush this weekend. PHOTO/FILE
Former skipper Eddie Cranston will return to the Wairarapa-Bush starting line-up for their Heartland Championship rugby match with West Coast at Memorial Park, Masterton on Saturday but in a very different role.
Cranston, who lost the captaincy when he was relegated to the reserves bench for the game with South Canterbury last weekend, has been selected to play at second five-eighth rather than in his customary positions of either flanker or No 8 but back rower Brendon Campbell will again lead the side.
No stranger to the midfield backs, having played there often during his schoolboy days and for the championship-winning Gladstone team at club level this season, Cranston’s selection at second-five comes through the decision to move Cyrus Baker from there to centre to replace Robbie Anderson, who was unavailable for this game.
It’s a situation largely forced on head coach Joe Harwood and assistant James Bruce because of the thinness of their resources but Harwood is confident Cranston will do a decent job.
“Eddie is the sort of guy who could play just about anywhere and he’s not being asked to do anything he hasn’t done before.
“The transition to the backs won’t bother him at all.”
The rib injury which caused Piri Weepu to leave the field early in the Timaru match has not recovered sufficiently enough for the former All Black to play any part in Saturday’s game.
That means Inia Katia will start at halfback with Daryl Pickering as his understudy. The other backline change comes on the wing where Corey McFadzean gets the nod over Nikora Ewe.
Up front, there is a mix of good and bad news.
The good comes in the form of prop Matt Kawana earning his blazer by playing his 25th match for the province — the first Pioneer player to do so for many years — and the inclusion of James Goodger in the reserves.
If Goodger takes the field, it will be his first Heartland appearance of the season after being sidelined by a shoulder injury.
He has, however, regularly trained with the squad in everything other than contact situations so will lack little on the score of condition.
The bad news is the unavailability of in-form lock Sam Gammie, whose hard, direct running has made him one of the side’s main attacking weapons.
He has been replaced by Regan Pope who has shaped up promisingly in what has been his debut season at this level.
Goodger is not the only interesting name in the reserves.
Greytown front rower Blane Kete and Marist utility back Pu’a Tafa are a couple who have been drafted into the squad over the last couple of weeks because of the injury woes which have been an all-too-constant part of this Heartland campaign.
In fact, the number of players used in championship games this season has now grown to 34, a staggering statistic by any standards.
That West Coast will be a handful for Wairarapa-Bush is an absolute given.
The 6pm start will mean the southerners going into what is the last round of qualifying round games knowing exactly how many points they require to guarantee themselves a place in the Lochore Cup semis.
Indeed, a home semi could well be within their grasp if other results earlier in the day happen to go their way.
For Wairarapa-Bush, the result of this game is somewhat academic in that this will be their last Heartland appearance of 2017 regardless of a win, loss or draw but coach Harwood said the mindset was very much about ending what had been a “pretty difficult” season on a high note.
“It would be great to repay our supporters for their loyalty by finishing with a win, and we’ll be doing everything we can to have that happen.”