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Rutene rolls the dice

Ryan Knell, with ball, gets a rare start in the number seven jersey. PHOTOS/FILE

Nonu, Gear rivals’ aces

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
[email protected]

Farriers Wairarapa-Bush coach Mark Rutene is “rolling the dice a bit” with several changes for today’s final Heartland Championship game against Ngati Porou East Coast at Trust House Memorial Park.

Most of the changes are in the backline, with halfback Daryl Pickering and wing Fiula Tamielau the only fresh players in the starting lineup, with the others positional changes.

Pickering’s inclusion has forced Isaac Bracewell out one spot to first-five, a switch which Rutene feels the talented youngster can handle.

“We want to continue to play Isaac, and he can play 10,” Rutene said. “We’re confident he will control the game; he’s played a bit of 10 this year in [Wellington] club rugby.”

For Tameilau, the match will be his first start for the Green and Reds in the championship, and Rutene is hopeful he can repeat some of the try-scoring form that made him such a hit during the club season for Carterton.

The need for a strong midfield means moving veteran Inia Katia to second-five alongside Tafa. The pair are two of the best defenders in the team, but they face the difficult task marking Ma’a Nonu, whether the All Black great starts as he did against Poverty Bay last week or comes off the bench as he has in his previous two appearances.

The versatile Tipene Haira comes in at fullback, having played at first-five and second-five during the campaign.

Try-scoring prop Lewis Bush is the main injury concern in the forwards. Rutene rates him a marginal chance to play after he had seven stitches in his forehead from last Saturday’s 14-37 loss to Horowhenua-Kapiti.

Former Cook Island international, 43-year-old Stan Wright, will take the field should Bush fail his fitness test.

Captain Sam Gammie moves to No 8 in place of Joe Tako, who is serving a four-week ban after his red card for a high tackle against Horowhenua-Kapiti.

Matt Perry will make his run-on debut at blindside flanker, and the no-nonsense Ryan Knell gets his first start in the number seven jersey since the 2018 Lochore Cup final against Horowhenua-Kapiti.

One of the side’s big improvers, lock Dominic Herlihy is rewarded for his good form with a start in the engine room alongside veteran Andrew ‘Sass’ McLean, who has been one of the form players in the struggling side, dominating the lineouts and a workhorse around the paddock.

Rutene is keen to finish the season on a high with the team’s third win of the championship but said it won’t be easy against a resurgent East Coast. They have won two of their past three games under the coaching of former All Black winger Hosea Gear after going eight years without a win.

“They’ve got some pretty good players in that East Coast team if you get Hosea and Ma’a on the field at the same time.

“They’re a bit like us – they have nothing to lose. We’re expecting that they will be physical, and they will throw the ball around. It should be a good game if the weather plays its part. We want to finish on a high.”

Although both teams have had two wins, East Coast are on 15 points, five clear of Wai-Bush on the championship table.

The game will kickoff at 2.30pm today and will be live-streamed on the Wai-Bush Facebook page.

WAIRARAPA-BUSH TEAM

Tipene Haira, Soli Malatai, Tafa Tafa, Inia Katia, Fiula Tameilau, Isaac Bracewell, Daryl Pickering, Sam Gammie, Ryan Knell, Matt Perry, Andrew McLean, Dominic Herlihy, Lewis Bush/Stan Wright, Henry Wilson, Tupou Lea’aemanu.

Replacements: James Pakoti, Stan Wright/Terongo Tekii, Vesi Luatua, Matt Masoe, Terongo Tekii/Logan Wakefield, Sam Morison, Moomoo Falaniko.

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