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Lochore Cup final on the line

Wairarapa Bush vs
West Coast – Trust House Memorial Park 2.30 pm

“There’s a bit of a fizz, and everybody’s chomping at the bit!”

That’s the message from a confident Copthorne Wairarapa Bush coach, Reece Robinson, as he prepares the ‘green and reds’ for the union’s first semifinal appearance in five years tomorrow.

Much of that confidence comes from Robinson being able to field almost the same side who were impressive 33–28 winners over Mid Canterbury.

There are only two changes to the starting XV, and both in the rearguard. Aseri ‘Ace’ Waqa returns from injury to take his place at fullback, which sees Tipene Haira drop to the bench, and Ben Brooking starts on the wing in place of Hayden Cooper, who won’t return from Australia until late tonight.

The forward pack remains unchanged, with the main talking point being the inclusion of Logan Wakefield in the middle row. The talented utility forward’s season looked to be over after limping off last Saturday with what appeared to be a bad ankle injury; however, Robinson confirmed the injury was nothing more than a bad sprain, and Wakefield will take his place at lock. That is a big boost, with Wakefield being the team’s go-to lineout option, while he is also an elusive runner with the ball in hand and a solid defender.

Robinson believes that being able to name virtually the same 23 who performed so well at Ashburton in winning their first away game of the Heartland Championship is a big plus heading into the business end of the season.

“We would have got immense confidence out of that, and we got that hoodoo off our back. The atmosphere among the boys travelling back was fantastic, and that’s only going to be good for us this weekend against West Coast,” Robinson said.

“I’m pretty confident. If you look at our track record at home, but finals footy is completely different – and I mean completely different – the pressure of the occasion does get to some players, but I’m really confident that we can definitely do the job.

“If we can play exactly the same we did at the weekend, I think the result will take care of itself.”

He added, “to have a home semifinal in the Brian Lochore Cup is massive, and all the boys are really fizzing and looking forward to the opportunity, and I really hope we can do not only the community but the Lochore family proud.”

Despite the extra pressure of playoff rugby, Robinson intends to keep an attacking mindset, although he reckons there could be more tactical kicking, and that’s where Andre Taylor’s big game experience could come to the fore.

The former Hurricane was all class at first-five against Mid Canterbury, and his ability to dictate play, his tactical kicking for field position and accurate goalkicking will be vital if Wai Bush are to progress to the big dance.

“I think maybe tactical kicking might be more of an option to conserve some energy, but depending on what the weather conditions are, we may look to kick a little bit more. Other than that, we’ll play the same way we play, wide to wide and with tempo. It’s got us to where we are at the moment, so there’s no reason why we should change it.”

Like the hosts, West Coast come into the game with a four-win, four-loss record, but three of the losses have been hard-fought defeats to the three top qualifiers for the Meads Cup, South Canterbury, Whanganui, and Thames Valley, while they were convincing 27–12 winners at home last weekend over North Otago, who put 50 points on Wai Bush in the second round.

Robinson anticipates a torrid battle with what he described as a solid team.

“They’ve got a really good midfield, are really good at set pieces and have tall timber in the middle. They like to use the ball as well and play a similar style to us, but I think it’s going to be a fantastic battle between two teams that play very similarly, and it’s going to come down to what team takes their opportunity,” he said.

“It’s the great thing about this competition, and you can’t take any team lightly. They did the job to tip over North Otago, but the round-robin games mean nothing because we don’t have a following week if we don’t win this weekend, so we’ve got to make sure we play well.”

Robinson would also love plenty of hometown support and a big crowd at Memorial Park to cheer on the team in what is only their third home semifinal in the 17-year history of the Heartland Championship.

“It would be fantastic if we can get some good numbers and bums on seats. I think we’ve done pretty well to get to where we are at the moment and to have that extra support from the community would be fantastic.”

A win over West Coast and a Poverty Bay upset over North Otago would see the Lochore Cup final played at Memorial Park on Sunday, October 15, and although Robinson will keep an ear on the other semifinal, his focus is on getting Wai Bush to their first final since the 2018 loss [26–23] to Horowhenua-Kapiti.

“For us, it would be great if Poverty Bay got up and we got a home final, but finals footy is finals footy, and first and foremost, we’ve got to get the job done this week, and all going well it would be great to have a home final but if it is down in Oamaru so be it.”

Probable
Wai Bush team:

Forwards – Tupou Lea’aemanu, Sase Va’a, Stan Wright Jnr, Sam Gammie [captain], Logan Wakefield, Jared Hawkins, Inia Katia, BJ Campbell.

Backs – Isaac Bracewell, Andre Taylor, Charles Mataitai, Tafa Tafa, Fiula Tameilau, Ben Brooking, Aseri Waqa.

Substitutes:

Forwards – Lewis Bush, Ty Waight, Tom Woelders, Matt Perry, Tana Isaac

Backs – Sam Walton-Sexton, Tipene Haira, Harry Eschenbach

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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