Impressive Martinborough flanker Chris Raymond scoring in a Tui Cup qualifying round match against Marist. PHOTO JADE CVETKOV
By Gary Caffell
Twenty-six years between drinks is a long time in anybody’s language.
So, you can imagine the extent of the celebrations if Martinborough claims Gladstone’s scalp in the final of the Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union’s Tui Cup premier division competition at Memorial Park, Masterton
It is a big “if”, though.
To repeat something which last happened in 1991, Martinborough will have to claim the scalp of a Gladstone side which have clearly been the form horse of the 2017 series and have already defeated Martinborough twice in the regular season, albeit by slender margins both times (20-16 and 22-20).
Up front, the challenge for Martinborough will be to quell the fire in a Gladstone pack who have experience in bucketloads.
Skipper John Stevenson, Andrew McLean, Andrew Smith, Richard Puddy and Eddie Cranston know all the tricks of the trade and will recognise the importance of protecting and retaining possession against a Martinborough eight who have impressive ball carriers in Cody Cunningham, Chris Raymond, Jacob Warren, Toby Rowlands and Kody Thompson.
Consequently, the more broken play situations for them the better.
Both teams have potential match winners in their backs.
Starting Inia Katia at halfback would seem a sensible move for Gladstone after the huge impact he made there in their semi-final win over Carterton last weekend.
Outside him are two youngsters of tremendous promise — Brad Griffith and Matt Macrae — both of whom are part of the extended Wairarapa-Bush Heartland training squad, while older hand, Cameron Hayton, is still a menace at centre and fullback Tim Griffith is always a threat on the counterattack.
Moving former Counties-Manukau rep, Armyn Sanders, to first-five has proved an astute decision for Martinborough as he has emerged as perhaps the best playmaker in the combined unions.
The midfield of Stacey Aporo and Tristan Flutey should never be underestimated either and then there is the tactical guidance of Tim Priest on the wing and Tipene Haira at fullback.
Haira’s hefty punting is sure to come in handy in tight defensive situations too.
Overall then, this should be a whale of a game with Gladstone deserving to have the favourites tag and Martinborough having a realistic chance to end their lengthy drought.
Kickoff is at 3pm.