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Robinson targets five points

Buller vs Wairarapa-Bush – Westport 2.30pm

The Meads Cup semifinals remain the target for Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush heading into tomorrow’s Heartland clash away to Buller.

Wai-Bush sits fifth in the standings with 16 points, one point behind Whanganui. That would give them a home semifinal in the Lochore Cup, played for between the fifth to eighth-placed teams, but coach Reece Robinson is aiming higher.

“We want to make that Meads semi, and we need to win the next three games and come out with bonus points, and realistically, it’s definitely achievable; we’ve just got to make sure switched on for 80 minutes and not 50 or 60,” said Robinson, in reference to last Saturday’s 35–26 win over King Country, when the team “fell asleep” and let the visitors back into the game with two tries in the latter part of the first half after building a 19–0 lead.

“We played some good minutes in that first half, and the goal this week is to squeeze 35 minutes out of playing some good rugby and making sure that the last 10–15 in the first half, we’re still on our game.”

Injuries, though, mean there are several changes from the side who triumphed over King Country.

Pocket rocket Epeli Rayaqayaqa is out with a dislocated thumb and is replaced in the number seven jersey by veteran Jared Hawkins, with Inia Katia also still sidelined. Impressive second-five Tafa Tafa strained an MCL at training, which sees Cyrus Baker come into the starting XV.

Wingers Charles Mataitai [elbow] and Freddie Eschenbach [unavailable] are replaced by Nikora Ewe and Aseri ‘Ace’ Waqa, who moves in from fullback, with the lightning-quick Jayden Keelan donning the number 15.

Promising hooker George Parke will miss the trip south after picking up an injury at training, with Lewis Bush taking his place on the bench. That sees prop Tom Woelders return to the game day squad, while loose forwards BJ Campbell and Matt Perry are set to make their first appearances of the season off the bench.

Utility back Harry Eschenbach returns for his first game in three weeks after straining his hip flexor against Poverty Bay.

The six-two split on the bench is aimed at combating the big forward pack of the home side, with Robinson’s intention to play a fast-paced game.

Buller are winless and rooted to the bottom of the table after five rounds, but Robinson believes they are a better side than that record suggests.

“Watching their games, they’re actually a good team, and for us, we need to make sure we do our core roles right. They’ve got a really big forward pack, but they look unfit, so if we can move them around, there will be opportunities later.

“With the likes of Jayden starting at the back and having Nikora back on the edge, and with Ace on the other edge, we can play with speed and width, and Cyrus will give us the go forward through the middle so the way we play is not going to change and everybody understands how we want to play.”

However, Robinson stressed the need for more patience and better option-taking when in prime attacking positions.

“We can’t force passes, and we have to make sure we can recycle the ball and then get set, but the miracle passes at this level, nine times out of 10, they don’t come off, so for us, it’s about ball retention and doing the little things right,” he said.

Showers are forecast for Westport tomorrow afternoon, but wet or dry, Robinson reckons the conditions will suit his players.

“Even if it’s wet weather, we’ve got some big forwards who can do a good job up front and take control of that, and either way, we’re going to come back with five points.”

Probable
Wairarapa-Bush team:

Forwards – Tupou Lea’aemanu, Sase Va’a, Stan Wright Jnr, Sam Gammie [captain], Malakai Biumaiwai, Logan Wakefield, Jared Hawkins, Isireli Biumaiwai. Backs – Isaac Bracewell, Tipene Haira, Nikora Ewe, Cyrus Baker, Fiula Tameilau, Aseri Waqa, Jayden Keelan

Substitutes:

Forwards – Lewis Bush, Ty Waight, Tom Woelders, BJ Campbell, Matt Perry, Tyne Stafford

Backs – Sam Walton-Sexton, Harry Eschenbach.

WOMEN

Poverty Bay vs Wairarapa-Bush – 2pm Wairoa

The third-fourth playoff is the target for Wairarapa-Bush as they head to Wairoa tomorrow for their final round-robin game of the North Island Heartland Women’s Championship.

Wai-Bush are fifth in the standings on seven points with one win, three points behind Poverty Bay, who have had two wins. The winner will progress to the third-fourth game on finals day in Taupo next weekend, while the loser will be destined for the fifth-sixth playoff against Ngati Porou East Coast.

Wai-Bush will go into the game without some key players, the biggest area of concern in the front row, where they lose Annemieke van Vliet and Darlene Iona, who both came off with injuries in the loss to King Country.

There are also question marks over the availability of star fullback Kate Donald, who could be forced to miss the trip because of farming commitments.

The players also face a tough travel schedule, leaving for Wairoa early tomorrow and returning after the game.

Despite the hiccups, co-coach Scott Collins is confident the team can return with five points and book their place in the third-fourth playoff.

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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