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Make or break moment

Ben Brooking, taking on the Horowhenua-Kapiti defence, moves into first-five against Thames Valley. PHOTOS/FILE

RUGBY

Farriers Wairarapa-Bush coach Mark Rutene has rung the changes for today’s vital Heartland Championship game against Thames Valley in Te Aroha.

The Green and Reds are 11th in the championship and are winless after three games. Another loss would severely dent their prospects of making the Lochore Cup playoffs for the fifth to eighth-placed teams.

Three of the changes come in the forward pack, with the naming of veteran Martinborough flanker Jared Hawkins, who had an outstanding club season and has been one of the form players for the Wairarapa Barbarians, the biggest surprise.

Powerhouse prop Doug Juszczyk returns after recovering from a foot injury, along with in-form hooker Sam Siaosi, who missed last week’s loss to Horowhenua-Kapiti with illness, to strengthen the front row.

There’s plenty of power off the bench too, with Wellington prop James Coburn over his calf injury, and the versatile Tupou Lea’aemanu, who can slot into the front row or loose forward trio.

Former Marist utility forward Matt Masoe, now with Massey in Manawatu, gets his first start off the bench, while Dominic Herlihy provides impact in the middle row.

Petone utility back Ben Brooking comes into first-five in place of Aidan Champion, and classy finisher Tristan Flutey starts on the wing, with Aseri Waqa moving to his preferred fullback position.

Daryl Pickering will captain Wai-Bush against Thames Valley.

Halfback Daryl Pickering captains the side, replacing flanker Eddie Cranston, who stood in last week for regular skipper James Goodger, who remains on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.

The biggest concern for the coaching team of Rutene, Jamie Williams, and Stan Wright is the poor discipline that has dogged Wai-Bush throughout their campaign.

In the three games, Wai-Bush have been on the wrong side of the penalty count, with almost two-to-one conceded against Horowhenua-Kapiti, and an unacceptable four yellow cards over the matches.

Many of the discipline issues stem from the breakdown with players going off their feet or entering from the side, and their inability to gain parity with the bigger forward packs they invariably come up against.

The inclusion of the abrasive Hawkins, with his ability to get on the ball quickly, could be the masterstroke to match the tough Thames Valley forwards at the breakdown.

The set piece has been solid though, with the scrum holding up well. However, the lineout was shaky without Siaosi’s accurate throwing last weekend.

His and Juszczyk’s return will ensure a strong platform for the early stages, with Lea’aemanu and Coburn to provide significant impact from the bench.

The backs have shown with their limited opportunities, they have the talent to break open most defences, as was evident with a brilliant team try that started inside their own half and went through six pairs of hands before Champion dived over.

Key to the try was the decisive running of second-five Tafa Tafa, and he’s sure to be an influential figure on defence and attack again.

Last year’s beaten Meads Cup finalists Thames Valley pose a daunting challenge though.

The Swamp Foxes have started the championship confidently, and are fourth in the standings after winning two of their games and narrowly going down to defending champions South Canterbury in the other.

Tafa Tafa has been influential in Wai-Bush’s opening three games.

Also on the line is the President’s Cup, presented by former All Blacks assistant coach Ross Cooper, who played for both provinces. Thames Valley are the holders having won the trophy in the inaugural game in 2021. The match will be livestreamed, kicking off at 2pm.

Wairarapa-Bush

Aseri Waqa, Tristan Flutey, Inia Katia, Tafa Tafa, Fiula Tameilau, Ben Brooking, Daryl Pickering [captain], Jack Loader, Jared Hawkins, Logan Flutey, Logan Wakefield, Andrew Smith, Tolu Fahamokioa, Sam Siaosi, Doug Juszczyk.

Substitutes: Ryan Wilson, Tupou Lea’aemanu, Dominic Herlihy, Matt Masoe, Sam Walton-Sexton, Tipene Haira, Nikora Ewe, James Coburn.

Women’s Rugby

Wairarapa-Bush step into the unknown today when they take on Thames Valley in their second Heartland match, which is a curtain-raiser to the men’s Heartland game.

Coach Scott Collins admits he knows little about their opponents, except that they have a big forward pack, and most of their players front for a team in the Waikato club competition.

Wai-Bush went down 0-10 to Poverty Bay in atrocious conditions in the only game they have played so far. Thames Valley have beaten East Coast and narrowly lost to Whanganui.

That latter result would be a good indicator that the game will be a competitive close battle, with Wai-Bush matching Whanganui in their latest encounters.

Inspirational captain and prop Annemieke van Vliet, and another Manawatu Cyclone, halfback Corrineke Windle, who comes in for the unavailable Darian Walker, are the key players for the young Wai-Bush side.

The game will kick off at noon and be livestreamed on Nga Iwi FM.

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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