Prop Max Tufuga [with ball] will play his blazer game against Whanganui. PHOTO/FILE
Wairarapa-Bush have a hoodoo to beat
Farriers Wairarapa-Bush must break a 14-year hoodoo if they are to beat Whanganui in today’s Bruce Steel Memorial Cup decider in Whanganui.
The two share the lead in the three-team competition, with both having beaten Horowhenua-Kapiti.
Not since the inaugural Meads Cup final in 2006 have the green and reds tasted victory over Whanganui in the ‘River City’.
Of the 11 games between the two in the Heartland era, Wai-Bush have won only three games, and Whanganui have won the other eight.
Wai-Bush coach Joe Harwood was the hooker in that 2006 championship-winning team and is conscious of the difficulty of the task ahead of his side.
“It’s a big test match. The last time we played there, I think it was my first year coaching, and it wasn’t a great turnaround,” he said.
Whanganui won that 2017 game 79-7, but since then Wai-Bush, under the astute coaching of Harwood, have developed into a consistent, well-performed side culminating in making the Meads Cup semifinals in 2019.
Wai-Bush are unbeaten this season, having won all four of their fixtures against Horowhenua-Kapiti [twice], King Country, and Poverty Bay.
Whanganui have had a win against Horowhenua-Kapiti, and two losses – to King Country, and Hawke’s Bay Saracens.
Wai-Bush won last encounter between the two, lifting the Bruce Steel Cup 28-18 in Masterton last year.
But Harwood is reading nothing into those results.
“They are always strong. They have a strong Fijian presence in the midfield, and guys like Craig Clare at the back who has played Super Rugby, and Lindsay Horrocks at halfback, so they’ve got plenty of experience across the park. It will certainly be a big challenge, but we’ll go out there all positive,” he said.
‘We’ve got to be on top of our game and certainly have to lift our performance to really compete against these guys, but we know we can do it.”
There are only two changes to the Wai-Bush side that started against Horowhenua-Kapiti in Carterton last Saturday.
Cameron Ravenwood replaces Lee Tomson at halfback, and Nathan Hunt returns to the wing, dropping the versatile Inia Katia to the bench.
“It’s good to have Hunty back in, he’s a specialist winger, and it gives Inia an opportunity to really concentrate on coming on at halfback and opening up the gaps around the breakdown like he did against Poverty Bay a couple of weeks ago,” Harwood said.
Fullback Tafa Tafa [hamstring], centre Teihana Brown [hamstring], and captain and No 8 Kirk Tufuga [knee] have been carrying niggling injuries, although Harwood expected them to get through the game okay.
“It’s the last game, and you just go out with that mindset. They dig as deep as they can, and when they can’t go any longer, then you take them off.
“Kirk has been playing big minutes, and I’m pretty sure if you give him the opportunity to come off, he’s always going to say “No”, and you’ve got to drag him off.
“He’s an inspirational leader for us and leads well, not just on the paddock but off as well, so he’s extremely important to us.”
Harwood said the selection for the game had been a difficult process.
“There are some guys who will be extremely disappointed that they missed out on not only the starting XV but the 22, and that’s a good position to be in, in terms of depth.
“It’s unlucky for those guys in the wider squad, who continue to work and push hard for a place in the team.”
Harwood said with all the preparation done, it’s just a matter of mentally preparing well for the final game of the season.
“This team will never give up, even when its up against them, they will keep going.
“Like every week, all we ask is for the boys to put their hand up and go forward, and I’m certainly confident they won’t shirk anything, and they’ll get stuck into it.”
The game will also be a special moment for prop Max Tufuga, who will play his 25th and blazer game for the province.
The Wairarapa-Bush team to play Whanganui at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui today:
Tafa Tafa, Nathan Hunt, Teihana Brown, Nikora Ewe, Soli Malatai, Sam Morison, Cameron Ravenwood, Kirk Tufuga [captain], Johan van Vliet, Tavita Isaac, Sam Gammie, Peter Beech, Lewis Bush, James Pakoti, Max Tufuga.
Reserves: Tekii Terongo, Tupou Lea’aemanu, Tom McKay, Joe Tako, Inia Katia, Leo Eneliko, Nick Birchfield.