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Final a clash between master and pupil

Blast from the past . . . Then assistant coach Steve Thompson and representative halfback James Bruce at the Wairarapa-Bush rugby union’s 125th anniversary celebrations in 2011. Thompson and Bruce will square off as coaches of Gladstone and Martinborough respectively in Saturday’s Tui Cup Wairarapa-Bush premier division rugby final at Memorial Park. PHOTO/FILE

By Gary Caffell

Will it be a case of Martinborough’s gain being Gladstone’s pain in the grand final of the Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union’s Tui Cup premier division competition at Memorial Park, Masterton on Saturday?

Head coach for Martinborough is James Bruce who, before joining up with that club in 2008, had some 12 seasons with Gladstone, including captaining them from his usual role of halfback to the premier division title in 2001 and being part of the team who repeated that feat in 2007.

That is a good story but making it even better is the fact that the assistant coach of that 2001 side and the head coach of the 2007 team was none other than Steve Thompson, who was also in that that role when they won again in 2011 and will again be guiding Gladstone’s fortunes this weekend.

Obviously, Bruce has the greatest respect for Thompson as a coach and knows he will have his team primed for another top performance this weekend.

“They (Gladstone) have made the running all season and a lot of their players have experienced finals rugby before — we understand just how strong a unit they are.

“In past seasons, you might have thought they offered more in the forwards than the backs but that’s not the case now — they’re a good all-round side”

In two previous matches this season, Gladstone have come out on top twice but the score lines have been close, 20-16 and 22-20.

Bruce is confident that if his side play to their potential, they can turn the tables when it matters most to win their first premier division title since 1991.

Martinborough won’t be doing anything different in their build-up to Saturday’s match with Bruce saying they would be having their usual two practice sessions focusing on finetuning their own game plan rather than worrying too much about what Gladstone would do.

“The big thing for us is to treat it like any other game, yes it’s a final and there’s going to be a lot more hype but at the end of the day, you still have to score more points than the other side — nothing changes in that respect.

“We’ve got this far playing a certain brand of rugby so why alter anything now.”

Those sentiments are pretty much echoed by Thompson who, understandably, has been pleased with the consistency shown by his Gladstone side throughout the 2017 season and believes they only have to continue along those lines to thwart what he describes as a “very strong” Martinborough challenge.

“We might look at tweaking things here and there but that’s about all, we’ve done the hard yards to get this far and now it’s a case of doing it one more time.”

Thompson expects Martinborough to play with their usual physicality up front and says they are sure to test the Gladstone defensive structure, especially in closer quarter situations.

“They have a number of good ball carriers in their forwards and no doubt they will try and get them into the game as much as they can.

“And they’ve got some pace and flair in the backs too so defence will be pretty important there too.”

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