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Taylor back for key clash

Wairarapa-Bush vs Whanganui – 2.30pm Trust House Memorial Park

The surprise inclusion of Andre Taylor at first-five is one of several big calls made by Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush coach Reece Robinson for tomorrow’s vital Heartland Championship clash with Whanganui.

Taylor hasn’t played since lining up at fullback in the second round 50–3 loss to North Otago in Oamaru, and Robinson had indicated that the former Hurricane star would concentrate on his assistant coaching role.

However, the need for experience in the backline has led to a recall in place of Tipene Haira, who performed well coming on as a replacement in the 24-19 loss to Horowhenua-Kapiti and in the 35–26 win over Poverty Bay but had a mixed day in the 27–20 loss to Buller last Saturday.

“We’ve probably been missing someone with experience who can control the game,” Robinson said.

“Andre is going to bring experience and a clear head. It’s a big call, but at the end of the day, we want to win silverware this year, and we need the best players playing.”

The other significant backline change is the naming of Marist and Heartland Under-20 winger Hayden Cooper to make his debut on the wing, and Robinson is backing the youngster to make a big impact.

“Hayden’s big, he’s fast, and the message I’ve given him is there are going to be some nerves and butterflies, but he just has to use his strength and his size, and when he gets an opportunity, he’s got to have a decent crack.

“He’s a young kid who’s come through the system and has been playing well at Heartland U20s, and he deserves the opportunity.”

Fiula Tameilau returns to centre after missing the trip to Westport. That sees Harry Eschenbach move in a place to second-five and Cyrus Baker drop to the bench.

In the forwards, the rugged BJ Campbell gets his first start of the season at No. 8, and veteran Inia Katia returns to the openside flank after two weeks on the sidelines. Jared Hawkins switches to number six, and the impressive Logan Wakefield will pack down in the middle row.

Campbell’s selection is at the expense of Isireli Biumaiwai, who is carrying some niggling injuries, but Robinson is confident the hardnosed Eketāhuna loosie will fit the bill.

“BJ, I thought he did well when he came on last week. He’s pretty solid, and he will cover lock as well – he’s a senior campaigner and does a very good job at what he does, so he’ll slot in there very nicely.”

Experienced midfielder Tafa Tafa, winger Charles Mataitai, loose forward Epeli Rayaqayaqa, and hooker George Parke remain sidelined with injury.

With three home wins and three away losses, Wai-Bush are sixth in the standings and in line for a Lochore Cup semifinal. While impressive at home but disappointing on the road, Robinson said it’s vital to find consistency and build momentum with a potential playoff spot on the horizon.

“We’re out there to win these two games and get winner’s bonus points, and I think if we can do that and a couple of results go our way, we might be able to slide into that Meads Cup semifinal.

“Either way, for us, it’s important we play well the next two weeks because going into the semifinals, whether it’s the Meads or Lochore, they’re do-or-die games, and there’s no following week, so we’ve got to make sure we’re more consistent than we have been in the past.”

Robinson believes some of the team’s shortcomings are down to individual responsibility and basis errors and not adhering to the systems on attack and defence. “We’ve got strike plays we know that work, but I think guys get a little bit lazy at times and are not getting into their position early, and they’re resting, which is letting us down,” he said.

“Also, on defence, we’ve got to make sure that we’re a lot better than we were last week, and what’s letting us down is our communication and not sticking to our systems, and Buller scored a very simple try when a couple of guys were rushing out of line.

It’s heat of the moment, and guys are fatigued, but we need other guys around talking and communicating on what pictures we see in front of us and a couple of times last week, we took the wrong options.”

Whanganui provide a massive challenge for Wai-Bush, and they will need to be at their best to topple the six-time Meads Cup champions, who have hit form after losing two of their first three games, but Robinson is relishing the challenge.

“We don’t fear any teams, to be honest, we’re our own worst enemies, and I think potentially we can beat any team, but it’s whether we have the right individual mindset on the day.

“We have to be on top of our game, and we have to play our best game this year if we’re going to get over Whanganui.

“I definitely believe that if we stick to our systems and the guys are working hard for each other, we can get the job done.

“If we’re realistic about our goals, we have to win, and win well, on Saturday.”

Probable
Wairarapa-Bush team:

Forwards – Tupou Lea’aemanu, Sase Va’a, Stan Wright Jnr, Sam Gammie [captain], Logan Wakefield, Jared Hawkins, Inia Katia, BJ Campbell.

Backs – Isaac Bracewell, Andre Taylor, Hayden Cooper, Harry Eschenbach, Fiula Tameilau, Aseri Waqa, Jayden Keelan.

Substitutes:

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

Backs – Sam Walton-Sexton, Tipene Haira, Cyrus Baker

WOMEN

Wairarapa-Bush vs Thames Valley – Taupo 1pm

Third place in the inaugural North Island Heartland Women’s Championship with a victory over Thames Valley tomorrow would represent an excellent result for the young Wairarapa-Bush team.

Wai-Bush go into the third-fourth playoff in Taupō with a two-win, three-loss record, with one of those losses a heartbreaking 37–34 defeat to a last-minute try to Thames Valley, and co-coach Scott Collins is determined to avenge that result.

“We’ve taken another step, and it hasn’t gone without its challenges,” Collins said about the six-team championship.

“We haven’t been able to field the same team two weeks in a row yet, but they’ve been doing the hard yards, and the effort they’re putting in is right up there, so third place would bode well, and hopefully mean we will attract a few more players and there are a few youngsters coming through who have been training with us, and hopefully they might kick on for next year.”

Wai-Bush will be without No.8 Sam Tipene with a perforated eardrum, although Paige Walker, who filled in at prop in last week’s 36–5 win over Poverty Bay, will return to the back of the scrum, where she is such a devastating runner.

Lock Monique Kloeg is battling a minor back strain, exciting fullback Kate Donald is a 50–50 proposition due to work commitments, and former Dutch international Annemieke van Vliet is missing from the front row.

Influential first-five Lisa Te Moananui missed the loss to Thames Valley, and Collins believes she will play a key role.

“Lisa has a good running game, and her kicking has improved. She runs the cutter pretty well, and we’ve got a backline pretty much settled from last week,” said Collins, who added the intention is to move their bigger opponents around.

“Looking at their footage from last week, they defend pretty narrow so we’re going to try and get the ball out wider and when we’re on defence make sure we tackle and defend like we did last week against Poverty Bay.”

Regardless of tomorrow’s result, Collins feels the championship has been a success and put women’s rugby back on the map.

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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