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Season of frustration

Jeramiah Mapusua, with ball, impressed until injury cut short his season. PHOTOS/FILE

Rutene: We didn’t adjust to demands


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“We failed to learn from our mistakes.”

Lewis Bush, taking the ball into contact against West Coast, was one of the standouts in a disappointing Heartland Championship.

That’s Farriers Wairarapa-Bush coach Mark Rutene’s view as he reflected on the team’s disappointing Heartland Championship campaign.

The Green and Reds finished a lowly 10th in the 12-team team competition, with six losses and two wins – a last-gasp 19-18 defeat of West Coast and a 24-12 victory over bottom-of-the-table King Country.

The championship started disastrously with an error-ridden 10-42 loss to Thames Valley after two players, utility back Inia Katia and hooker James Pakoti were sent off, meaning Wai-Bush played much of the second half with 13 players.

After a heavy 17-61 loss away to South Canterbury, there was an improved effort in losing to Whanganui 18-22 and an 18-28 loss at home to Mid Canterbury.

The two wins gave Wai-Bush a faint hope of making one of the three finals, but a 14-37 defeat away to Horowhenua-Kapiti ended any chances.

In all games though, Wai-Bush struggled to maintain momentum, with numerous schoolboy errors such as basic handling, kick-offs and dropouts going out on the full, failing to find touch with penalties, and poor lineouts plaguing the team.

“We made the same old mistakes every game. We failed to learn and we struggled to adjust to the level sometimes, and we probably didn’t have the class that we needed in a few positions,” said Rutene, who reckons he and assistant coaches Brent Wilson and Nathan Riwai-Couch used 35 or 36 players because of suspensions and the high injury toll.

Former All Black Zac Guildford never took the field after straining a calf in the warmup for the Whanganui game, veteran lock Peter Beech suffered a back injury that sidelined him for the entire championship, outside back Tristan Flutey suffered a serious ankle injury in the Whanganui game, and international flanker Johan van Vliet and promising prop Jeramiah Mapusua missed the last three games with serious leg injuries.

Sam Gammie, with ball, had a strong championship.

The loss of former Tongan international prop Tolu Fahamokioa to the Waikato NPC squad, the unavailability of former Bay of Plenty prop Chris Hemi, and Tupou Lea’aemanu being stuck in Auckland for the early rounds also impacted heavily on the front row stocks.

“We had several disruptions, and even from our first game when we had two guys red-carded and suspended, we never had a settled team because we always had guys injured.”

Rutene said that there isn’t the depth in the local club competition to cover such a heavy injury toll and unavailabilities.

“We lacked class in certain key positions, and some of them are obvious. We can’t import a certain position if he’s not from here, but it is what it is, and we haven’t got a massive player pool to choose from.”

Rutene said the team was on the right track for the Heartland Championship after three solid pre-season matches before the covid-19 level four lockdown disrupted the start.

“Everyone was in the same boat, but for us, we were building really well in the pre-season and we could see improvement each game.

Tafa Tafa … outstanding season.

“We’d won our last game against Wellington Samoans and had a reasonably good game the week before against the Wellington Development team, so we were building well and then covid hit.”

Rutene said they tried online training with the players, but some didn’t get involved, and they turned up after the month-long break having lost fitness.

Prop Lewis Bush, who was the side’s top try-scorer with five, hooker Henry Wilson, veteran lock Andrew McLean, loose forward Sam Gammie, van Vliet, and Mapusua stood out for Rutene in the forward pack.

Halfback Isaac Bracewell and outside back Tafa Tafa were the best of a backline that never really gelled.

In the end, though, it was a disappointing return to the Wai-Bush coaching racks for Rutene, who previously coached the province from 2011-14, making the Meads Cup semifinals in 2012 and 2013.

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