The Wairarapa-Bush and King Country teams with the Lochore-Meads Memorial Scroll before the inaugural match in 2020. PHOTO/FILE

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Playing for the full 80 minutes will be key to victory for Farriers Wairarapa-Bush over a struggling King Country today in Taupo.

The home side have yet to win in this season’s Heartlands Championship and have conceded a whopping 257 points, an average of 51 points a game, which would suggest Wai-Bush will start as warm favourites to register only their second win of the championship.

However, consistency throughout a game has not been a hallmark of the green and reds, who have looked a million dollars at times, and then stumbled and fumbled into mediocrity.

In their past three games Wai-Bush have built solid first half leads, only for them to nod off and let the opposition back in the game. Those lapses resulted in losses to Whanganui [18-22], and Mid Canterbury [18-28], and it took a late long-range penalty from Moomoo Falaniko to salvage a victory over West Coast [19-18] last Saturday.

Tipene Haira, kicking during the win over West Coast, has won the first-five berth for today’s game. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

Wai-Bush coach Mark Rutene said the team can’t afford to take King Country lightly and will need close to an 80-minute performance to come away with the points.

“There will be bits where we don’t play that well, but we need to watch our discipline because we have been giving away lots of penalties, so watch our discipline around the ruck, play in the right end of the field and just have a bit of enthusiasm,” said Rutene.

“There was a crucial period in the last game when in 10 minutes in the second half where we either infringed or gave the ball up and we could never get any momentum. We have to play smarter rugby, hold on to the ball and look to use the ball wisely, don’t kick it in their 22 and build some phases. We’re good when we build phases, but we just seem to go off the boil easily.”

King Country’s prospects haven’t been helped with several reinforcements called in after the Te Kuiti area was put into covid-19 alert level 3, but despite that and their last place on the championship ladder, Rutene predicts a torrid battle.

“They’ll be chucking the kitchen sink at us, and they’ll be saying this is our best chance to have a win.

“I’m not sure of the make up of their team and I know covid has hit them, so they’ll probably be a bit unstructured because they had to bring a whole lot of guys in the last week.

“They’ll be up for the challenge. They have a big forward pack, but I just don’t know how fit they will be and how structured, so we need to start well and keep the pressure on.”

An injury cloud hangs over Wai-Bush’s experienced flanker and captain Johan van Vliet, who limped off at halftime in the West Coast game with a hamstring injury. The former Dutch international has also been struggling with an ongoing knee injury, and Rutene said it was unlikely he will be fit enough to take the field. If that is the case, Gladstone’s Ryan Knell will come into the starting XV, and Matt Perry will come into the match day 22.

Definitely out though is prop Jeramiah Mapusua, whose season is over after he dislocated a kneecap last Saturday. His place will be taken by promising Tongan Tupou Lea’aemanu who, like Mapusua, is a damaging runner in broken play. The versatile Sam Gammie, who will start on the blindside flank, will provide the prop cover.

Joe Tako returns to the starting line up at No 8, with BJ Campbell dropping to the bench, while hooker James Pakoti is on the bench after serving his suspension for a high tackle in the first game of the championship.

Rutene is hopeful that former All Black Zac Guildford will make his first appearance of the championship, but said the midfield back is still struggling with a calf injury suffered in the warm-up to the Whanganui game three weeks ago. Should Guildford remain on the sideline Inia Katia is likely to move into second-five, with Sam Morison taking the fullback role.

A Wai-Bush win will keep alive their chances of making one of the three Heartland finals, whereas a loss would mean they will be playing for pride in the final two games.

The Lochore Meads Memorial Scroll will also be up for grabs, with Wai-Bush the holders, having won the inaugural encounter last year.

The game will kick off at Owen Delaney Park, Taupo at 2.30pm and will be livestreamed on the Wai-Bush Facebook page.

Wairarapa-Bush team: Moomoo Falaniko, Soli Malatai, Ueta Tufuga, Zac Guildford, Inia Katia, Tipene Haira, Isaac Bracewell, Joe Tako, Johan van Vliet [captain]/Ryan Knell, Sam Gammie, Vesi Luatua, Andrew McLean, Lewis Bush, Henry Wilson, Tupou Lea’aemanu.

Replacements: James Pakoti, Dominic Herlihy, BJ Campbell, Ryan Knell/Matt Perry, Daryl Pickering, Sam Morison, Fiula Tameilau.



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