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Rutene wants a fast start

Tafa Tafa, with ball, is likely to start at fullback. PHOTOS/FILE

RUGBY

Wairarapa-Bush head coach Mark Rutene.

Wairarapa-Bush coach Mark Rutene said getting an early win to build momentum is the key to a successful Heartland Championship.

The Green and Reds kick off their campaign on Sunday night in a televised game in Palmerston North, against a formidable foe in 2019 Meads Cup champions and last year’s beaten semifinalists North Otago.

“Everyone is there to win the Meads, and we’re probably no different,” Rutene said.

“It’s important to win in the first couple of weeks and get some confidence because it’s only a short season of eight games. You don’t want to get behind the eight-ball too much. We certainly want to start strongly, and that’s what we’re looking for – a win.”

Wai-Bush completed a three-match preseason last Saturday with two wins – over Central Hawke’s Bay and Wellington Samoans – and a heavy loss to Wellington Centurions, which was effectively a Wellington B team.

“We got a lesson from Wellington about intensity, so that was good, and we came back last week with a win.

“That puts us in good stead, but in saying that this is Heartland and North Otago are usually in the Meads or thereabouts, so they will be a tough first game for us.”

Injuries have already impacted the team, with the backline in particular hit hard.

Midfielder Nikora Ewe, winger Tristan Flutey, and winger-fullback Aseri Waqa are out for Sunday’s game. Winger Soli Malatai’s fitness was to be assessed at training last night.

No 8 Jack Loader is also out for the game; however, it isn’t good news for veteran lock Peter Beech, whose season and representative career are over after he ruptured a tendon in an arm in the win over Wellington Samoans.

Despite early injury worries, Rutene feels there is enough firepower to stretch opposition defences.

However, gaining enough ball to set the exciting backline alight could prove a challenge for one of the smaller packs in the championship.

Wai-Bush captain James Goodger.

Unlike most teams, Wai-Bush won’t have a big ball running No 8 but will rely on the big engine of veteran Sam Gammie for go forward, backed up by the never-say-die attitude of captain James Goodger on the blindside, and Logan Flutey or Eddie Cranston on the openside.

“We’re not a big team in terms of a lot of big bodies, so we need to be more mobile, and we need to put guys into holes and look for opportunities,” he said.

“There’s some exciting attacking talent in the backline, but we need to win the ball first.”

Wai-Bush won’t lack for grunt in the front row after last week’s impressive showing by the starting trio of Zimbabwe international Doug Juszczyk, former Tongan international Tolu Fahamokioa on either side of promising hooker Sam Sioasi.

Veteran Andrew Smith, his Gladstone teammate Will Porritt, and Dominic Herlihy will fight it out for the starting lock positions.

Greytown halfback Sam Walton-Sexton has shown enough to suggest he will make his first-class debut.

Aidan Champion could get the nod ahead of Ben Brooking at first-five, Inia Katia is likely to start at second-five, and Tafa Tafa at fullback, with the other positions to be decided after last night’s fitness test.

Wai-Bush are outsiders at $31 to win the Meads Cup and are outsiders at $4 to beat North Otago in the opener, which kicks off at 7.05pm on Sunday and will be televised live on Sky Sport.

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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