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‘Must win’… now only option

By Gary Caffell

Apologies for sounding like a broken record.

But for what seems like the umpteenth time this season Wairarapa-Bush confronts a season-defining scenario when they meet Poverty Bay in a Heartland championship match at Gisborne tomorrow.

Many of their games in 2016 have come with the “must win” label if they were to keep their hopes of a Meads Cup semifinal spot alive but none have fallen into that category with quite the same certainty as this one.

The plain truth is that if Wairarapa-Bush lose to Poverty Bay their Meads Cup aspirations are gone, win and they should be able to seal their place with a victory over cellar-dwellers East Coast in the last of their qualifying round games in Masterton the following weekend.

If the form book is any guide Wairarapa-Bush should come away from Gisborne with maximum points in the bag. After all they are seven points clear of Poverty Bay  on the competition table. However, there are two good reasons to anticipate a much tougher assignment than bare statistics might suggest.

Firstly, Poverty Bay are coming off the back of a 62-28 walloping of West Coast which will have given them a timely boost of confidence leading into tomorrow’s game.

And, secondly, Wairarapa-Bush have had the misfortune to lose three key players, halfback John Ika, first-five Tim Priest, and utility forward James Goodger, not only for this particular game but for the rest of their Heartland programme. To be without one of them would be bad enough, all three and it’s a serious blow.

If there is one commodity which this Wairarapa-Bush squad have shown all season it is their ability to lift the ante when the chips are down. Nobody can question their character and resolve and so it would be entirely wrong to discard their prospects simply because they won’t be at full strength. Recent history suggests it could even bring out the best in those left to carry the can.

Head coach Josh Syms and assistants Joe Harwood and James Bruce have come up with at least three interesting positional changes for tomorrow’s game. Blake Knight, who has been a star for the Wairarapa-Bush B side this season as a loose forward, has been chosen to partner Andrew McLean in the middle row and regular second-five Andrew Humberstone will move back to fullback to replace Sam Monaghan, who shifts to first-five.

Knight’s selection ahead of Andrew Smith for the locking berth is a big call. Smith has been a consistent performer all season and in Goodger’s absence could have been expected to become his side’s major winner of lineout ball. Whether Knight has the same skills in that department is something we are about to find out but one thing is for sure, when it comes to physicality in the other aspects of the forward game there will be few giving more than him.

Having Monaghan wearing the No 10 jersey will mean giving Wairarapa-Bush’s most lethal counter-attacker more ball to play with but it will also mean he won’t have the same space and time to fully utilise those skills. Just how proficient he and halfback Inia Katia are in their option-taking is sure to have a big say in the end result. Certainly Monaghan’s powerful punting could be a huge boost if the tactics are – as likely – to dominant the forward battle and play most of the game deep in opposition territory.

With Monaghan at first-five the decision to move Humberstone to fullback makes sense although there are some pundits who would have liked to see Zac Guildford placed there. Humberstone is strong on the tackle, possesses a hefty boot and has the speed and strength to make an impact on attack. The challenge for him will be his positional play with Poverty Bay sure to test his nous in that area, especially in the opening stanzas.

The Wairarapa-Bush team is: Andrew Humberstone; Cameron Hayton, Zac Guildford, Iziq Foa’l, Glen Walters; Sam Monaghan; Inia Katia; Brendan Campbell; Eddie Cranston, Andrew McLean, Blake Knight, Sam Gammie; Nick Hohepa, Abe Haira, Stan Wright. Reserves: Daryl Pickering, Peni Rokoduguni, Robbie Anderson, Richard Puddy, Matt Kawana, Andrew Smith, Richard Puddy.

Meanwhile, on the home front a sevens tourney is being played at Memorial Park tomorrow with teams from Pioneer, Carterton, Marist, Martinborough, Greytown and Gladstone taking part. It will start at 9.30am with the final scheduled for 2.25pm.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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