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Sights set on top four finish

Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush coach Reece Robinson is aiming high and promising an exciting ride in his first Heartland Championship.

Wai-Bush kick off their campaign on Saturday against Ngati Porou East Coast at Trust House Memorial Park in what Robinson hopes will be the start of a successful championship, with a Meads Cup semifinal the target.

“For me as a coach, you want to win championships, and I think the small changes that we’ve made, we’re going to get some good results,” Robinson said.

“When you look at the draw we’ve got, North Otago will be a tough game and Whanganui, but I think we can potentially win six of the eight games.

“I would be stoked to win them all, but realistically if we win six of the eight games, we’re in for a shot at the top four, so the guys are going to have to work extremely hard, and we are going to have to have some luck somewhere, whether its the bounce of the ball or a call of the ref, or injury, but we feel that we’ve got the group that can go deep into the competition.”

Robinson’s confidence stems from the preparation of the coaches and players over the past three months culminating in wins in their last two pre-competition games against Manawatu Evergreens [73–41] and Wellington Samoans [26–19]. Both wins were against much bigger opposition, and Robinson believes that will hold his much smaller team in good stead.

“After the weekend, I don’t think we’re going to come up against a bigger team than the Wellington Samoans. We might come up against teams that are probably a very similar size but have better systems and are better prepared.

Logan Wakefield moves from lock to blindside flank.

“If we focus on our role and the way we want to play, and if we get the little details right, we’re going to put a lot of teams under pressure no matter how big they are, so at the end of the day at this level it’s about taking the opportunities, and for us, the key thing is making sure that we work really hard individually to be better players week in and week out and I’m pretty confident that we can do really well no matter what the size of our team is.”

Saturday’s match will also mark the Heartland debut for Wai-Bush for former Hurricane and Maori All Black, Andre Taylor, who has been assisting with the coaching and will start at fullback against East Coast.

Although now 35, the co-captain remains a class act and adds to an experienced core, which includes centurion Inia Katia, who has transitioned from the backs to the loose forwards, and fellow co-captain and lock Sam Gammie [60 caps].

“Having the likes of Andre on board is huge, and look at Inia [101 games], he’s been massive for us, and they all in their own right offer so much value to this team, and the boys are going to really benefit,” Robinson said.

“In games too, when your backs are against the wall, experience counts, and just a few plays from these key players are going to go a long way.” Robinson has made minimal changes to the side that played Wellington Samoans, and then mainly positional, for Saturday’s opener.

Centurion Inia Katia, on the charge against Wellington Samoans, is part of an experienced core.

Logan Wakefield moves to the blindside flank to make way for Gammie’s return to the middle row.

Taylor’s naming at fullback sees the dynamic Fiula Tameilau selected at centre, where he formed a useful midfield combination with Tafa Tafa and was always a threat with the ball in hand against the Evergreens.

Aseri ‘Ace’ Waqa and Nikora Ewe get the wing starting roles, and Ben Brooking steps into first five in place of Jack Eschenbach, who injured an AC joint last weekend.

Robinson is expecting a typically physical game from East Coast, saying their style hasn’t changed much over the years.

“They like to have a crack at every ruck, and when they get a bit of space and a bit of confidence, they play some good code, and they also have some pretty experienced players, which is going to help them.

“It will be a brutal first game, but I’m very confident that if we stick to our structures and shape, we’ll do the job pretty comfortably.”

The first-year coach is also positive that the team’s attractive style of play will not only achieve good results but draw crowds to the park.

“It doesn’t matter what team you’re in or coaching, it’s all about results, and I’m pretty confident that when we start winning games, we’ll get bums on seats, and I just encourage any Wai-Bush past players and supporters to get on board because it’s going to be an exciting ride.”

Wairarapa-Bush team
Forwards – Tupou Lea’aemanu, Terongo Tekii, Stan Wright Jnr, Sam Gammie [co-captain], Tom Campbell, Logan Wakefield, Inia Katia, Isireli Biumaiwai.
Backs – Sam Walton-Sexton, Ben Brooking, Tafa Tafa, Fiula Tameilau, Aseri Waqa, Nikora Ewe, Andre Taylor [co-captain],

Substitutes:
Forwards – George Parke, Ty Waight, Lewis Bush, Jared Hawkins, Marcus Ale.
Backs – Isaac Bracewell, Harry Eschenbach, Nathan Hunt.

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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