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Robinson pleased with depth

New Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush coach Reece Robinson has spread his net far and wide to pick his initial training squad.

The former Maori All Black has selected a squad of 39, including some outstanding young talent and two players from senior reserve club Masterton Red Star, to prepare for their first assignment, a clash with Central Hawke’s Bay in Waipukurau on King’s Birthday Monday [June 3].

The 22 forwards and 17 backs have stood out for Robinson through the four rounds of the North-South series for the Lane Penn Trophy, which he said made trimming the squad down a tricky task.

“We had a list of 58 names which we had to trim down to 39, but the message I’ve given to all those other players, too, is this squad is not set in stone, and players will come and go for a number of reasons so it’s really important that the players who missed out just to keep playing well and we’ll probably bring you into the group,” Robinson said.

Six more players, including three hookers Sam Siaosi and Tua Levi from Marist, and Greytown’s Riley Walton-Sexton, were named to train with the squad.

Carterton’s Terongo Tekii, Ben Collins from Martinborough, and East Coast’s George Parke are the three rakes named in the main squad for what Robinson believes is an even more vital role with the lack of tall locks in the union.

“We’re not going to have tall timber, so we have to think a bit smarter outside the square, and what’s going to be important is making sure our throws
from our hooker are on point.

“Ben throws very well, and George Parke, I’ve heard some really good things about him, and I’ve been impressed with how he’s been playing, and Terongo, at this stage, is probably my best thrower at the moment, so we’ve named three, but there are another three. For us, we want to give all the hookers an opportunity, but these three have been performing so far.”

One of the bolters is 17-year-old winger Conall Doyle, who impressed Robinson over the past two weeks, including scoring two tries in Martinborough’s 32-19 win over Pioneer in the Lane Penn Trophy final.

“This young fella plays well above his age, and he’s got a big future, I think. He’s got pace, he’s got power, and he’s got a good rugby brain, and I’m really keen to get the likes of [assistant coach] Andre Taylor and some of the senior players to work with him and develop him even more.”

One name that is missing is veteran loose forward and 2022 captain James Goodger, who has yet to take the field but has kept himself fit preparing for the Rotorua marathon, which he completed in three hours, 30 minutes and 40 seconds in his first attempt at the distance.

“I’ve had a few discussions with him, and he’s still on the fence, whether he plays or not. For me, it’s really important that we select guys who are playing, but we know James is a fantastic player, and he’s led Wai-Bush well over the years, and we’ll definitely look at him if he comes back.

“I think we have enough depth there in the loose forward trio, and James will have a bit of work to do if he does come back, but we know what he’s like as a player, and I’m pretty confident he’d get up to those standards we require pretty quick.”

2022 Wai-Bush No. 8 Jack Loader’s move from Carterton back to his original club Masterton Red Star has not impacted his selection, while teammate and first-five Josh Wilson has also impressed Robinson.

“Jack’s a good player, and he deserves an opportunity but is got a bit of work to do. I’ve spoken to him quite a bit around that, and he understands that,” he said.

“I said from the start that a player who is performing, it’s about giving them opportunities and seeing how they operate. I’ve watched a few Red Star games now, and Josh Wilson to me he is classy, and it will be great to see how he operates in a different environment and a higher level of rugby, but I’m confident he’ll go well.

Another young first-five to make the cut is Pioneer’s Zinny Harmon, who has impressed with his game management, attacking nous, and maturity in only his first year out of college.

The loose forwards and backs are the two areas where Robinson is happiest with, although overall, he is pleased with what he has seen in the first four weeks of the season, with good depth across the union. However, he is concerned with the lack of playing numbers at some clubs.

“If you asked me six months ago if we would be calling players and telling them that they had missed out on our training group, I would have probably laughed at you.

“I’ve been impressed with the depth that we’ve got, and the quality of some of the rugby has been outstanding as well.

“To me, it’s about giving players an opportunity. It doesn’t matter what team you play for, and at the end of the day, we’ll decide if they’re up to our standards when selecting that Heartland group.”

Robinson won’t lack for support with a strong coaching team, including former Māori All Black and 54-cap Hurricane Taylor, Gladstone coach and former Cook Island international prop Stan Wright, and Martinborough coach and former Wai-Bush halfback James Bruce.

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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