Cyrus Baker . . . new leader for Wairarapa-Bush. PHOTOS/FILE
“New look” is hardly an apt description for the Wairarapa-Bush rugby side which will take on Horowhenua-Kapiti at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday.
No fewer than 12 of the 23 players named in the squad will be making their debut for Wairarapa-Bush at senior representative level and there is a change in the leadership ranks as well.
With last season’s usual skipper, Eddie Cranston [Gladstone] not included in the side, the captaincy for this match has fallen to midfield back Cyrus Baker who plays his club rugby in Manawatu but was a regular for Wairarapa-Bush in Heartland Championship matches last season.
Head coach Joe Harwood said Baker’s elevation to skipper was initially for the Horowhenua-Kapiti fixture and against Hawke’s Bay at Queen’s Birthday weekend but there was every chance he would continue in the role for the 2018 Heartland campaign.
“He’s the sort of guy who will lead by example and that’s what we want,” Harwood said.
Baker will be part of a starting backline which will include three debutants who have moved into the region from overseas – centre Nicholas Mason from England but now with Carterton, Greytown winger Moo Moo Falaniko [Samoa] and fullback Thomas Poturu [Cook Islands] from Gladstone.
Interestingly, Falaniko is more accustomed to playing at first-five where he has represented his country at age group levels. Poturu has been starring on the wing at club level.
Harwood and assistant coaches Deon van Deventer and Piri Weepu have opted for experience in choosing Inia Katia [Gladstone] and Tipene Haira [Martinborough] as their inside combination.
After a solid Heartland Championship debut last year, Nikora Ewe [Martinborough], has justifiably retained his place on the wing.
Two strong challengers for backline roles – Eketahuna midfielder Robbie Anderson and Marist first-five Bon Wilson – were ruled out by injury.
Three newcomers have made it into the reserves – East Coast inside backs Bryan Arnold and Jamie Griggs and Martinborough midfielder Tristan Flutey.
All are sure to be given significant game time in Wellington and how they cope could dictate whether they remain as serious contenders for Heartland selection.
The unavailability through injury of Brendan Campbell [Eketahuna], Epeli Rayaqayaqa [Gladstone] and James Goodger [Marist] was always going to mean that changes to the loose forwards combination were inevitable for Saturday’s match and the overlooking of Cranston added further to that puzzle.
Starting on the flanks will be two new faces who have impressed on the club scene – Conon Gray (Carterton) and Ryan Knell (Gladstone).
Flanker Chris Raymond [Martinborough] has been moved to No 8, a role which will probably be taken up by reserve Jack Loader [Masterton Red Star] at some stage of proceedings.
A couple of older hands, Andrew Smith [Gladstone] and Sam Gammie [Eketahuna], will initially take the field at lock with Gammie also being named as vice-captain and another experienced middle rower in Lachie McFadzean [Carterton] is in the reserves.
No doubt, the absence of evergreen Gladstone lock Andrew McLean will be questioned but as he is yet to appear on the club scene, his omission is entirely understandable.
Six front rowers are included in Saturday’s line-up with Terry Norman [East Coast] and Manawatu-based Max Tufuga starting at prop and James Pakoti [Martinborough] at hooker. Props Connor Baker [Carterton] and Jaden Mason [Greytown] and Marist rake Henry Wilson will find game time off the bench.
Tufuga, Baker and Wilson will be debuting for Wairarapa-Bush at this level.
This coming weekend has matches in the Tui Cup competition suspended because of Wairarapa-Bush and Horowhenua-Kapiti match.
The draw for Tui Cup matches on May 11 and 12 is: Friday – Gladstone v Eketahuna at Gladstone at 7pm. Saturday – Martinborough v Carterton at Carterton, Marist v Greytown at Memorial Park No 2, Masterton Red Star v East Coast at Memorial Park No 1 at 2.35pm.