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Premier rugby about to get real

Logan Wakefield, with ball, will miss today’s game for Carterton after his selection in the NZ Barbarians Under-21 side. PHOTO/FILE


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Carterton v Eketahuna, Carterton, 2.35pm [Kaleb Rowlands]

Unbeaten Lane Penn Trophy finalists Carterton will be without two of their rising young stars for tomorrow’s opening round of the Wairarapa-Bush premier championship.

Prop Tupou Lea’aemanu and loose forward Logan Wakefield were the only two Heartland players named in the NZ Barbarians Under 21 squad to play in the Super Rugby Under 20 Championship. They would be out for the next two games.

The home side had also been hit with several players recovering from covid-19, although coach Neil Rodger still hoped to field a useful side.

“We’re probably a couple of forwards down and maybe a back down, but we’re still pretty lucky,” Rodger said.

Carterton went through the town and country series unbeaten, but Rodger reckoned that meant nothing and that all form went out the window.

“We have a game plan for Eketahuna, we know how they play, and they know how we play, and they’ll try and stop what we do, and we’ll try and stop what they do. I don’t think there will be much in it, and I can’t see a blowout either way.”

Eketahuna failed to win in their three town and country matches, with injuries having a significant impact.

Former Dutch international Johan van Vliet was expected back from a knee injury, while veteran lock Vesi Luatua played his first game of the season against Gladstone last Saturday.

Eketahuna co-captain Robbie Anderson said the team was at about 80 per cent strength and was happy to be the underdogs.

“We’ll happily take that tag all year, and if we can get everyone on the field, we’ll knock a few teams over; I’m sure we will,” Anderson said.

He said the key to beating Carterton would be shutting down their dangerous outside backs.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Hard to go past Carterton, but this could be closer than many expect.

Gladstone v Marist, Gladstone, 2.35pm [James Wheaton – North Harbour]

Gladstone co-coach Charlie Bargh said the side are beginning to gel and buy into the new coaching style that he and Stan Wright have brought to the team since taking over from legendary coach Steve Thompson.

Gladstone won two of their three town and country games, and Thompson said, “the guys are just starting to understand what me and Stan are trying to achieve”.

Much of that had been built around a strong defence. Bargh felt that if the team defended like they did against Martinborough and Eketahuna, they would be a good chance to upset Marist, who impressed in wins over Pioneer and Greytown after losing to Carterton in the first round.

“We expect them to be pretty confrontational, and we expect them to contest every ruck and use their backline as well. Defence will get us through.”

Bargh anticipated an even contest in the set pieces with both teams possessing solid scrums, while the lineout battle between Gladstone young gun Will Porritt and Marist veteran Peter Beech would also hold intrigue.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Arguably the game of the round. Marist look to be one of the frontrunners but never count out Gladstone at home. Marist in a close one.

Pioneer v Martinborough Jeans St, 2.35pm [Alistair Payne]

There’s always something special in Pioneer and Martinborough clashes, with plenty of close family connections between the clubs, and a fierce battle is likely on Pioneer Old-Timer’s Day.

Despite losing two of their ‘town’ matches, Pioneer showed some encouraging signs, while Martinborough impressed in beating East Coast last week. Pioneer coach Victor Thompson predicted a tough encounter.

“I expect just more of the same because they really took it to the Coasties,” Thompson said.

“They always get up against us so that it will be good. But we’re looking pretty good, and we’re chomping at the bit to get stuck in and put them to the test.”

Pioneer would be without veteran lock Quentin Trass with a broken thumb but were otherwise at full strength.

Key for Pioneer could be the in-form Reece Calkin, who had shown at first-five and fullback that he probably had the best kicking game in the province.

However, Martinborough had the players to threaten with veteran playmaker Tipene Haira at fullback, winger Nathan Hunt outstanding last week, and 20-year-old prop Ty Waight a force at scrum time and powerful with ball in hand.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: A confident Pioneer is a dangerous beast, and I expect to get up in another close one.

East Coast v Greytown, Whareama, 2.35pm [Chris Jefferies]

The Coasties started the season with wins over Eketahuna and Gladstone before coming unstuck against an inspired Martinborough last Saturday.

On the latter occasion, the Coasties were without several frontliners and appeared to go away from their traditional strength – their unpredictable in-your-face style of play.

Defending Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Cup champions Greytown had a woeful start to the season, with three losses. However, coach Mark Childs said team spirit was high despite the losses, including last weekend’s 8-37 defeat to Marist.

“The feeling is good. Last week especially, we felt we played better than the score suggested, after being down to 14 players after 20 minutes, and Marist did finish off well at the end,” Childs said.

Hooker Lance Buchanan and outside back Gracyn Evans would return after missing last week, while lock Dominic Herlihy was a 50-50 proposition with a shoulder injury.

COGGIE’S PREDICTION: Going on recent form only – East Coast, but again, closer many than many predict.

Senior reserve

Defending champions Masterton Red Star host Tuhirangi, East Coast are at home to the newly combined Greytown-Carterton side, Pioneer play Martinborough at Jeans St, and Gladstone play Marist, with all games to kick off at 1pm.

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