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Punished enough – Pioneer’s Miller cleared to play

Pioneer vs Martinborough

Trust House Memorial Park,

5pm [Alistair Payne]

Pioneer received a mighty boost ahead of tomorrow’s Lane Penn Trophy, with captain Jonte Miller cleared to play after avoiding suspension for being sent off for punching in last weekend’s win over East Coast.

Coach Victor Thompson said Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union judiciary ruled that the offence was at the lower end and the 60 minutes Miller was off the field was sufficient punishment.

Although Pioneer pulled away for a comfortable win over East Coast, they lacked Miller’s leadership, defence, and hard work at the breakdown, with Thompson saying that accuracy and discipline will be vital tomorrow evening against the well-drilled Martinborough outfit.

“Especially coming up against Marty, who are pretty well structured and pretty swish over the ball with [flanker Jared] Hawkins, so ball security will be top of the list,” Thompson said

“They are very fit and quite fast, and if you give them that time and space, they’ll use it if they get that ball out wide, so we’ve got to be pretty secure with our defensive patterns.”

Pioneer will take the field with their strongest lineup, with the return of big prop Ihe Namana to boost the scrum and rugged loose forward Himiona Haira back after being a late withdrawal last weekend.

Thompson is also hoping for a repeat of some of the Fijian flair turned on last week by No.8 Dan Nawaqavonovono, who scored three tries, and winger Jomoci Vatunitu, who crossed for one five-pointer.

Apart from their 2021 victory in the second-tier Hodder-Steffert Cup, tomorrow’s appearance is their first in a premier trophy decider for many years. Thompson feels that victory will be just reward for all the hard work that is gone on at Pioneer since the club regained their premier status in 2020 after a two-year absence.

“It’s good to see the progress and all the time and effort start to pay off,” he said.

“It starts from the top down, and we’ve created the environment which gets players coming and committed, and I’m quite happy where we are, and we just keep building on that.”

A Martinborough victory tomorrow would be held in high regard for coach James Bruce, who had a close connection with the late Lane Penn – the legendary Wai-Bush coach in their heyday in the 1980s, who became an All Black selector and NZ Rugby president.

“Lane Penn was a fairly good family friend, and he was always a man when I was playing if he was in the clubrooms after the game, he would always come and talk to you,” Brice said.

“I told the boys on Monday that it means quite a bit to me just because of who he was and what it is, and there are a lot of people who probably don’t realise what he did for rugby in the background.”

Although Martinborough are missing key loose forwards Cody Cunningham and Logan Flutey and former Super Rugby utility back Robbie Robinson, Bruce will still field a more than useful side with plenty of attacking flair in the rearguard. The unpredictable Tipene Haira is likely to steer the ship at first-five, with former NRL player Keanu Dawson at second-five, and the speedy Nathan Hunt and Shane Colton out wide.

Bruce said the one area the “green and blacks” need to improve on is the scrum, which has struggled at times in the first three games.

Although buoyant about his team’s prospects, the longtime coach is wary of Pioneer’s threats across the paddock.

“They will be reasonably tough up front, I guess, and the few Fijians they’ve got have added to the mix for them, and there are some big boys in that team, so the less they’ve got the ball, the better, but we’re focusing on ourselves and let’s get us right first.”

The always-confident Bruce believes that if his players turn up with the right attitude, they should have the edge, especially on fitness towards the end of the 80 minutes.


Both teams should relish playing on the fast artificial turf, and a high-scoring encounter is likely. There is always something special about clashes between the two clubs, with plenty of close connections. Would love to sit back and enjoy as a neutral, but for the sake of picking a winner – Martinborough just.

Little is resting on the remaining three games, with coaches likely to use the games as the final shakedowns before next weekend’s start of the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Trophy premier championship.

Eketahuna play Greytown on the artificial turf, and East Coast take on Gladstone on Memorial Park No.2, with both games kicking off at 1pm. Marist and Carterton meet in the third-fourth playoff at 3pm.

Women’s rugby

Wairarapa Wahine Toa have their final home game of the Manawatu Premier Championship tomorrow against a formidable Old Boys Marist at the Solway Showgrounds.

The home side picked up their first win of the season last Saturday, thrashing College Old Boys 52-0, the same team that Old Boys Marist defeated 126-0 in their only game in which they took to the field. Their other game was won by default, so it’s hard to gauge the relative strengths of the sides.

Kick-off is at 1 pm.

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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