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Good signs for Meads Cup semi

By Gary Caffell

The possible loss of hooker Abe Haira might be all that stops Wairarapa-Bush from being at full strength for their Heartland championship rugby Meads Cup semifinal match with Wanganui at Whanganui on Saturday.

Haira was red carded midway through the second half during Wairarapa-Bush’s 44-22 victory over East Coast in the last of their qualifying round matches at Memorial Park on Saturday night for an alleged head butt and his case will be heard by the NZRFU judiciary this week.

If Haira is suspended that would leave Richard Puddy as the only specialist hooker in the Wairarapa-Bush team and management are taking no risks, having already called Martinborough hooker Kody Thompson into the squad as Puddy’s understudy should Haira not be available.

The return to the starting line-up of Tim Priest and James Goodger seems very likely for the Meads Cup semi.

Both have been struggling with injury problems with Goodger being left out of the side for the East Coast game as a consequence and Priest coming off the reserve bench on that occasion.

There is a question mark over the positioning of both these players with Goodger proven at both lock and flanker and Priest likewise at first-five or fullback.

The probability would be for Goodger to be a straight replacement for Blake Knight at lock and for Priest to be at first- five, a move which would have Sam Monaghan return to fullback and Andy Humberstone either challenging for a midfield berth or being relegated to the reserves.

Whether first choice halfback John Ika’s arm injury has recovered sufficiently for him to take the field against Wanganui will be known after a fitness test tonight.

He was replaced by Inia Katia for the East Coast game with Daryl Pickering entering the fray in the second half.

It will be interesting which of those two makes the starting XV should Ika be ruled out as they have a very different skill base.

However, the big hope will be that Ika is on deck as his ability to keep the opposition loosies honest with his speed off the mark and elusive running gives that all important extra dimension to the Wairarapa-Bush attack.

Whatever the make-up of the Wairarapa-Bush side one thing is for certain; to beat Wanganui they will need to produce their best performance of a Heartland campaign which has seen them win six of their eight games, and lose the other two by just a couple of points.

That record is not one to be sneezed at but Wanganui, for their part, have won eight from eight, most of them by wide margins.

Head coach Josh Syms says it will be a case of Wairarapa-Bush starting strongly and maintaining the momentum all the way, or being on the end of a decent beating.

“They (Wanganui) are lethal if you let them get a roll on. We have to go out there and compete with everything we’ve got,” Syms said.

“We can’t stand back and let them dictate, we have to match them physically and mentally. It’s a huge challenge but we’ll be up for it, I’m sure of that.”

Reflecting on the East Coast game Syms labelled Wairarapa-Bush’s performance as “messy” with their structure and discipline often going awry against an opposing side which set out to be disruptive, and all too often got their own way.

“We knew what to expect and, frankly, there were times when we didn’t cope too well,” he said.

“We got into playing their type of game and obviously that’s what they wanted. However, we still scored six tries and won comfortably enough so it wasn’t all bad.”

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