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Tension rising as playoffs loom

Wairarapa-Bush No 8 Kirk Tufuga on the charge against South Canterbury last weekend. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

RUGBY

JAKE BELESKI
[email protected]

They rose to the occasion to knock over the form team in the competition last weekend, and now the challenge for Wairarapa-Bush is backing up that performance.

Last weekend’s enthralling 27-24 win over South Canterbury in Masterton showed Wairarapa-Bush are capable of matching the best in the competition, but there is still plenty at stake when they take on West Coast in round seven of the Heartland Championship at Greymouth on Saturday [2pm].

Harwood and his selectors have backed largely the same group to get the job done on Saturday, with just one change in personnel and two positional switches in the starting XV.

Wing Tristan Flutey has not recovered from a hamstring injury he picked up early in last week’s match, meaning Michael Lealava’a moves from the bench to second five-eighth, with Robbie Anderson moving from second five to centre, and Matt Henderson moving from centre to the wing.

Harwood said the reshuffle should not cause too many issues for the team.

“Michael came on pretty early last week after we lost Tristan Flutey and Nick Olson to hamstring injuries.

“He made an impact when he came onto the field and it means Matty will go out to the wing, and he’s a young guy who has been a really consistent performer for us.”

The bench will be relied upon once again to make an impact later in the match, and that was one aspect the coaching staff were particularly pleased with against South Canterbury.

“One strength last weekend was all the guys that came off the bench really added something,” Harwood said.

“Ryan Knell and Andrew Smith came on and did some great carries and hopefully we can get the same again — they’re all experienced campaigners.”

Wairarapa-Bush and West Coast both have 17 points after winning three of their six matches to date, and the winner of Saturday’s match will be in a perfect position to push for a spot in the playoffs.

The loser could see themselves battling to make the top eight after next week’s final round of matches.

“It’s about consistency this week — it’s our biggest game of the year with a lot on it,” Harwood said.

“They’re another big forward pack who rely heavily on their set piece, so we’ve done some work this week on countering their lineout drive.

“One-on-one defensive stuff and the set piece will be big for us, and a good first attacking strike.”

Wairarapa-Bush showed an impressive ability to hold onto the ball in last week’s performance, and their patience was arguably the most important factor in snatching a late win.

Their ability to put together phase after phase eventually paid dividends when they capped off a stirring second half fightback, and they will need more of the same on Saturday.

Harwood said a standout feature from their effort last week was their continuity with ball in hand.

“We went 18 phases for Sam Gammie to score in the second half, and we managed to go 22 phases to get the penalty to win it at the end, which shows the boys are working hard.

“We’ve proved we can hold it — we just need to be patient and take the opportunity when it presents.”

The injuries to Flutey and Olson have also resulted in Finn Yeats earning a spot on the bench, and Harwood said they had plenty of faith in him to put his best foot forward.

“We know Finn quite well — I’ve coached him at college and he’s an exciting prospect.

“Hopefully he’ll get an opportunity to have a shot at it and get a taste for it on the weekend.”

WAIRARAPA-BUSH
Inia Katia, Matt Henderson, Robbie Anderson, Michael Lealava’a [1], Soli Malatai, Glen Walters, Daryl Pickering, Kirk Tufuga, Epeli Rayaqayaqa, Tavita Isaac, Lachie McFadzean, James Goodger [c], Max Tufuga, James Pakoti, Sam Gammie.
Reserves: Nicholas Hohepa, Jeremiah Mapusua, Andrew Smith, Ryan Knell, Paddy Gluck, Tipene Haira, Finn Yeats.

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