“A sprinkle of experience and some young fellas coming through!”
That’s how Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush coach Reece Robinson summarised his first Heartland squad, which he named yesterday.
True to his word, Robinson has picked on form, with several players in the veteran’s category, and some talented youngsters.
“As I’ve said I went round all the clubs and told all the players we’re going to pick on form and these 32 have been the ones who performed in the last several weeks,” Robinson said.
“It’s going to be bloody tough, especially in the backs to select our starting team and our bench players because there’s so much talent and depth there.”
Robinson has named two players of origin. Halfback Isaac Bracewell, who plays for Oriental Rongotai in Wellington, and impressed when he wore the green and red in 2021, will contest with Greytown’s Sam Walton-Sexton for the number nine jersey, while first-five Jack Eschenbach from College Old Boys Manawatu joins his brothers Harry and Freddie in the squad and will compete with Carterton utility Ben Brooking for the pivot’s role.
It’s the loose forward department where Robinson has plumped for experience and there’s plenty of it.
Top of the list is Greytowns’ 42-year-old warhorse Tana Isaac, who Robinson described as a bolter and the form No. 8 of the latter weeks of the club season. Not far behind is Martinborough’s Jared Hawkins, 37, who can cover all three loose forward positions, and Carterton’s Inia Katia, who has made a massive impact since moving from the backs to the openside, and would have been one of the first names Robinson wrote down.
In the backline, former Hurricane Andre Taylor, 35, is named in the midfield, while Martinborough flyer Nathan Hunt, 34, who impressed Robinson the first time he saw the former NZ Heartlands representative play.
“He’s got that speed and even though he’s in his mid-30s he’s still got it and his experience will be great for us too especially with the young boys.”
Heartland newcomers include the Eschenbach brothers, Carterton’s Fijian brothers lock Malakai and flanker Isireli Biumaiwai, Pioneer flanker Himiona Haira, Marist lock Tom Campbell, Martinborough props Ty Waight and Tom Woelders and rugged East Coast hooker George Parke, while Marist loosie Marcus Ale returns after a five-year absence.
The front row maybe young but there is ample depth with Carterton’s Tupou Lea’aemanu, Stan Wright Jnr from Marist, Greytown’s Lewis Bush at prop, and Cook Island international Terongo Tekii at hooker.
“Tupou and Stan Wright Jnr are both good ball carriers and scrummagers and then there’s depth with Lewis Bush who has been performing well at tighthead, so he’ll cover hooker as well and that could be a position he might move to next year and we’ve got big Tom and Ty.
“I’m pretty keen to develop Ty and Tom throughout the season. The good thing about those two, they’ve got size and Tom has shown glimpses of what he can do with ball in hand and as for Ty, I’ve seen him destroy people with ball in hand too, so those guys have to use their size and skills when they get the opportunity and get out there.”
One area where there is a lack of size is in the middle row, where co-captain Sam Gammie and Carterton’s Logan Wakefield are likely to be the starting locks, with Campbell and Malakai Biumaiwai in support.
On the plus side, there is plenty of depth in the midfield with co-captain Taylor, Greytown’s Cyrus Baker, Marist utility Tafa Tafa, Harry Eschenbach and the elusive Fiula Tameilau from Carterton.
“Cyrus has worked really hard to trim down and lose some weight. He started the season on the outsides and he’s moved his way back to the midfield and that’s where we see his position and we’ll probably utilise him as an impact player. “Andre can cover 10 as well but we see him as a centre for us at this stage but he will probably shift into 10 if we need to put him there.”
Robinson is confident he has the squad to achieve some good results and perform well in his debut season as coach.
The 32 players will take part in a training camp this weekend at Castlepoint, where Robinson said the focus will be on “team building, working on our culture and making sure we tick a lot of boxes and getting our standards, expectations and values sorted.”
Wai-Bush is scheduled to play two warmup games, against Manawatu Evergreens at home and Wellington Samoans away, before the Heartland Championships kicks off against East Coast on August 12.
COPTHORNE WAIRARAPA-BUSH HEARTLAND SQUAD
Props – Tupou Lea’aemanu, Ty Waight, Stan Wright Jnr, Lewis Bush, Tom Woelders
Hookers – Terongo Tekii, George Parke
Locks – Logan Wakefield, Tom Campbell, Sam Gammie [co-captain], Malakai Biumaiwai
Loose forwards – Marcus Ale, Jared Hawkins, Inia Katia, Himiona Haira, Isireli Biumaiwai, Tana Isaac, Epeli Rayaqayaqa
Halfbacks – Sam Walton-Sexton, Isaac Bracewell
First-fives – Ben Brooking, Jack Eschenbach
Midfielders – Andre Taylor [co-captain], Tafa Tafa, Harry Eschenbach, Fiula Tameilau, Cyrus Baker
Outsides – Aseri Waqa, Nathan Hunt, Nikora Ewe, Tipene Haira, Freddie Eschenbach