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Imports a necessary evil for Heartland team

By Gary Caffell

Reality says Wairarapa-Bush won’t win the premier Heartland championship rugby title, the Meads Cup, without imports.

Our union’s ambition to field a Heartland championship side made up of only local players and “players of origin” only by 2019 is laudable but it doesn’t bode well for success.

Not unless the national hierarchy decides to introduce a rule which makes the “importing” of players from outside the bounds of each union no longer possible, and right now it’s hard to imagine them taking a stand of that consequence.

The plain truth is that we will never have the depth of talent in our club rugby to make up a squad which would be a serious challenger for the Meads Cup.

Yes, clubs could enhance the situation by encouraging skilled players from outside our region to join them prior to the club season actually getting underway but that generally means offering them an incentive, and what clubs have the spare cash necessary to do that these days.

The last couple of seasons have been a prime example of how “imports” can make a huge difference to our Heartland performance.

Remember back to 2015 when Wairarapa-Bush went from basically the bottom of the Heartland pile the previous year to a Meads Cup semi-final.

In his first year as coach of our flagship side, Josh Syms coaxed a young Auckland hooker by the name of Andrew Makalio.

What a revelation he was with his dynamic running in broken play and penchant for scoring spectacular tries, so much so that come this year and he was part of the Tasman Mitre 10 squad and is now about to play Super 15 for the Crusaders.

It was Makalio, with Syms’ encouragement, who talked halfback John Ika to transfer from the Tasman union to play for Wairarapa-Bush in 2016.

While not grabbing the headlines to the same extent as Makalio himself Ika’s contribution was still immense, enough certainly to wonder just how far Wairarapa-Bush might have gone had he had not been ruled out by injury for the latter stages of a campaign which again ended in a Meads Cup semi-final.

There will, of course, be many rugby folk who wholeheartedly support the “no import” ambition on the basis it will provide greater opportunity for locals to shine, and they will argue this fact outweighs the very real possibility that results will suffer.

Again a laudable sentiment but it doesn’t take into account another reality, that a successful side not only draws bigger crowds but is also be more attractive to sponsors who, understandably, much prefer to have their name associated with a team which is winning on a regular basis.

Taking all that consideration it seems to me the case for imports has a heck of a lot more going for it than that against.

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