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Final hit out for Wai-Bush

Wellington Samoans vs Wairarapa-Bush
Wainuiomata, 1pm

Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush coach Reece Robinson expects a bruising encounter against a big physical Wellington Samoans in their final hitout before the kick-off of the Heartland Championship.

Robinson intends to replicate a Heartland game as close as possible and has named a 25-man squad, up from the 23 for a championship match, to ensure the players are given “good minutes” before taking on Ngati Porou East Coast next weekend.

There is one change and a positional switch in the forward pack that impressed in the first half of the 73-41 win over Manawatu Evergreens last Saturday.

Freddie Eschenbach gets a start on the wing after an impressive effort against Evergreens.

Veteran flanker Jared Hawkins comes on to the blindside flank, with Marcus Ale still on the injured list, and Logan Wakefield moves from six to lock, where he is likely to start through the Heartland campaign.

“We don’t have much height in our group, and he [Logan] is a bloody good ball winner, and I see him as more of a lock because we’ve got some pretty exciting loose forwards who are really good defenders and good ball carriers,” Robinson said.

“Ideally, we’d like to look at Marcus at six, so Logan is definitely going to be a lock for now, but he can easily fill that role if need be.”

As signalled last week, Robinson has named regular prop Lewis Bush as the backup hooker, a position the first-year coach believes the skilful player could make his own.

The backline has three new starters and three positional changes.

Jack Eschenbach has been named at first-five, which sees Ben Brooking move to fullback. Former Hurricane Andre Taylor is over a minor leg injury and gets a start at centre, forcing the elusive Fiula Tameilau to the wing, and Freddie Eschenbach has been given the nod on the other wing after impressing in the second half against Evergreens, with Nikora Ewe dropping to the bench. Outside back, Aseri Waga was not considered because of a knock to the knee.

Sam Walton-Sexton has won the start in the highly contestable halfback position over Isaac Bracewell. Both showed touches of brilliance with their sharp passing and lightning darts around the edges, giving Robinson a welcome selection conundrum.

“That’s the reason I got Isaac and Jack in because those nine and 10 positions are pretty critical for us, and if we can create competition, it’s going to get the best out of these players. Sam did a good job in that first half and deserves another go.

Robinson added though, that the halfbacks need to be given better protection for them to function effectively.

“If we want to be able to put teams under pressure, we have to do our job for the nines and put the ball on a good plate. I’m excited to see these two guys fight it out for the starting position next week.”

Who will handle the goal-kicking duties provides another pleasant puzzle, with Taylor, Brooking, and Jack Eschenbach all capable off the boot.

“They might have to flip a coin for that, but it’s a good position to be in because most teams have only one good goalkicker. Those guys can figure it out themselves, but when you look at Andre, he’ll probably kick the long-distance ones.”

Ben Brooking switches to fullback.

Robinson feels tomorrow’s clash is the ideal preparation and the type of game the “green and reds” need before tackling East Coast.

“They’re going to be big and strong, and for us, we have to make sure we do our little things right, the detail around our tackle, and when we carry, we’re trying to hit weak shoulders because if you carry too high, we might end up second best.

“They’ll give us a good hitout, come out with a hiss and roar, and if we can show some composure, adapt and adjust to what they throw at us, and get into our work, we’ll be in a good position to attack later on in the game.

“The result is irrelevant. It would be nice to win, but the big thing for us tomorrow is to make sure we improve on the areas that we didn’t do so well last week and make sure we improve every week.”

The game was originally scheduled to be played at the NZ Campus of Innovation and Sport in Trentham, but with the closure of those grounds has been transferred to William Jones Park.

Starting XV
Forwards – Tupou Lea’aemanu, Terongo Tekii, Stan Wright Jnr, Logan Wakefield, Sam Gammie [co-captain], Jared Hawkins, Inia Katia, Isireli Biumaiwai.

Backs – Sam Walton-Sexton, Jack Eschenbach, Tafa Tafa, Andre Taylor [co-captain], Fiula Tameilau, Freddie Eschenbach, Ben Brooking.

Substitutes
Forwards – Ty Waight, Lewis Bush, Tom Woelders, Tom Campbell, Himiona Haira

Backs – Isaac Bracewell, Tipene Haira, Cyrus Baker, Nikora Ewe. lightning darts around the edges, giving Robinson a welcome selection conundrum.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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