Epeli Rayaqayaqa . . . counted on to bring impact off the bench. PHOTO/FILE
Wairarapa-Bush won’t die wondering in their Heartland Championship rugby match with Mid-Canterbury at Memorial Park, Masterton on Saturday.
Anything other than a win will severely dent their chances of making the Meads Cup playoffs further down the track and would place their prospects of making the Lochore Cup semis in jeopardy too.
And the exact same scenario faces Mid-Canterbury as well.
For the uninitiated, the Meads Cup is contested by the top four sides at the end of the preliminary rounds and the Lochore Cup by the teams ranked from five to eight.
Right now, Wairarapa-Bush sit ninth equal on the competition table, even with none other than Mid-Canterbury and ahead of only Poverty Bay and East Coast.
The perilous position they are in at the midway point of the preliminary rounds ensures Wairarapa-Bush will go into Saturday’s clash with a positive mindset.
They showed in the seven-point loss to King Country in Te Kuiti last weekend that, when they string phases together and work the ball through the hands, they are capable of putting points on the board with the three tries they registered there all being the result of good execution.
Up front, Wairarapa-Bush will initially be relying on strong ball carriers such as Andrew McLean, Jayden Mason, Eddie Cranston and Tavita Isaac to get them over the gain line with a similar impact expected from Sosaia Tufui, Sam Gammie, Chris Raymond and Epeli Rayaqayaqa when they come off the bench.
Before this can happen though, the hard graft will need to have been done in the tighter exchanges with the always rugged Mid-Canterbury pack almost certainly targeting the set pieces of lineout and scrum as areas where they could restrict the flow of quality possession to the home side.
From all accounts, the scrum was not the most stable of platforms in Te Kuiti and the onus will be on a new-look front row in Matt Kawana, James Pakoti and Mason to make an early impression here.
The make-up of the Wairarapa-Bush backline is interesting, to say the least.
Replacing promising wingers Nikora Ewe (injured) and Soli Malatai (reserves) with a couple of utility players in Tipene Haira and Corey McFadzean could be seen as a risk in the sense that it replaces pace with solidity, and perhaps weakens the team’s try-scoring potential in the process.
On the plus side, it does give more experience and that could come in handy especially on defence where some glaring mistakes were apparently made out wide in the King Country game.
The introduction of Robbie Anderson at centre should be a bonus in that respect as the sureness of his tackling is one of his biggest attributes.
Talking of experience, Wairarapa-Bush will have plenty of that in their inside combination of Piri Weepu and Tim Priest and in what is expected to be a match tight enough to go right to the wire, their ability to make decisive decisions — and in Priest’s case consistently nail goal-scoring opportunities — could be the most telling factor of all.