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Wai-Bush face uphill battle

Tupou Lea’aemanu, with ball, will get his first representative start at No 8. PHOTOS/FILE

RUGBY

Wairarapa-Bush v South Canterbury, Trust House Memorial Park 2.30pm

To say that Farriers Wairarapa-Bush have a tough nut to crack in today’s Heartland Championship encounter with the Meads Cup favourites at Trust House Memorial Park would be an understatement.

The two teams go into the fifth-round clash with starkly contrasting records. Wai-Bush are bottom of the standings and on a losing streak of six Heartland matches stretching back to their win over King Country in October last year, whereas South Canterbury head the points table and are on a 13-match winning run, including an unbeaten record in the 2021 championship.

Despite their poor record, Wai-Bush have shown some encouraging signs. In all four games, the Green and Reds have been competitive, only to be let down by simple errors and ordinary discipline.

There was a significant improvement in discipline in last Saturday’s 19-37 loss to Thames Valley in Te Aroha, when for the first time this season no Wai-Bush players were sent to the sin bin, and the penalties conceded were almost halved.

However, the failure to execute the basics at times was well below the standard needed at Heartland level, in particular the lineouts, where four consecutive throw-ins in the second half were lost, with two of those leading to Thames Valley tries, which took the game out of reach of Wai-Bush.

South Canterbury are expected to be another step up, and there will be even more demand for lineout accuracy, with the visitors chockfull of counterattacking options to take advantage of any turnover ball.

To counter the visitors’ threats Wai-Bush coach Mark Rutene has brought Matt Masoe into lock to add bulk to the middle row, and moved Hurricanes Heartlands Under-20 representative Logan Wakefield to blindside flanker providing more options at lineout time.

Masoe’s selection is subject to fitness after he suffered a knee injury at training on Tuesday. If he is ruled out, Greytown’s Dominic Herlihy is likely to step into the starting XV.

Soli Malatai, with ball, returns from injury to take his place on the wing.

The significant other change in the forwards is the inclusion of powerful ball runner Tupou Lea’aemanu at No 8. Although most of the 20-year-old’s representative appearances have been at prop, Lea’aemanu has also shown potential off the back of the scrum.

“We want to get all the big ball runners on the field,” Rutene said.

“Tupou, he’s pretty dynamic with the ball, and he’s played a bit there for Carterton over the last couple of years, so he’s comfortable enough there.”

That has Jack Loader relegate to the bench, although he will still have a pivotal role, providing impact as a fresh ball runner in the second half.

One area in which Wai-Bush have stood up though is at scrum time, where they’ve had the better of most packs at times, but again they can expect a sterner examination from the experienced South Canterbury eight, and they will need to keep up the effort for the full 80 minutes.

There are three changes in the backline. Veteran utility Tipene Haira comes into first-five replacing Petone’s Ben Brooking, who drops out of the match day 23 after a mixed effort against Thames Valley.

Bruising centre Te Kahu Bishop comes into the midfield defence alongside the tough Tafa Tafa, with veteran Inia Katia, who will play his 98th first-class game in the green and red to provide impact off the bench, while the experienced Soli Malatai replaces Fiula Tameilau on the left wing.

Despite the scorelines Wai-Bush have showed improvement with the number of missed tackles and penalties conceded significantly reduced from the start of the championship, however, Rutene said there will need to be another step up today against the benchmark Heartland side.

“They’re strong across the field, they’re a complete forward pack, and they have a real class first-five [Sam Briggs] and they have dangers in the backline.

“We need to get up shut down their space, make our tackles, and if we win our ball hopefully we can do something with it. We want to keep improving, and I think we are.”

South Canterbury have had the wood on Wai-Bush in recent years, winning six of their past eight clashes, including a 17-61 thrashing in Timaru last year.

The match will be controlled by one of New Zealand’s leading female referees, Maggie Cogger-Orr, who has been selected to officiate at this year’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Meanwhile eight Wairarapa-Bush players are in the Hurricanes Heartland Under-20 side to play the Chiefs Heartland Under-20s in a groundbreaking match at McLean Park, Napier today.

East Coast hooker George Parke, Martinborough lock Callum Higginson, who is vice-captain, loose forward Cody McGlashan, Gladstone utility back Freddie Eschenbach, and Marist winger Hayden Cooper are in the starting lineup, while Martinborough prop Caedman Hawkins, East Coast utility forward Henry Buck, and Masterton Red Star first-five Tarquin Karaitiana are on the substitutes bench.

The match will be played for the inaugural Glen Osborne Cup, and is believed to be the first game between representative Heartland provincial union teams selected from their Super Rugby franchise regions.

Former All Black Osborne has a strong Heartland connection having been born in Whanganui, representing the province in 1990-91 before moving to North Harbour. He went on to play 19 tests, including at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, and played for the Chiefs from 1996 to 1998, and then for the Hurricanes in 1999.

Today’s match is the curtain-raiser to the much-anticipated Ranfurly Shield challenge between Hawke’s Bay and Wellington.

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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