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Wai-Bush – new coach, new look

The result of Mondays’ preseason hit out against Central Hawke’s Bay is irrelevant for Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush coach Reece Robinson.

“It’s about giving, especially the newer guys, the opportunity to play at a higher level, and it’s an opportunity for us to see the players outside their respective clubs,” said the new coach in preparation for his first match in charge of the green and reds.

Robinson has named a new-look squad of 25, including three debutants in the starting XV and another eight fresh faces on the bench, for the game to be played at Central Park, Waipukurau.

Rugged East Coast hooker George Parke, 18-year-old Martinborough lock Joseph Gillies, and Pioneer winger Jimoci Vatunitu will get their first taste of representative rugby in the starting lineup.

Martinborough front-rowers Ben Collins and Ty Waight, Marist lock Tom Campbell, Martinborough loose forward Sam Twigley, clubmate halfback Josh Matthews, promising Pioneer first-five Zinny Harmon and Greytown utility back Gracyn Evans can also expect plenty of game time off the bench.

Otherwise, the team to be captained by Carterton utility forward Logan Wakefield, with Gladstone second-five Harry Eschenbach as vice-captain, has a good balance of youth and experience.

“For me, it’s about giving guys an opportunity to put their hand up. For us, we have to name the Heartland squad in about six or seven weeks. We need the guys to perform,” Robinson said.

“It would be nice to win, but the result is irrelevant, and it’s about giving guys opportunities and working on combinations.

“We’ve only had four training sessions together, and there was a lot of detail we needed to get across to the players, and we’re pretty confident that the boys trained pretty well over those four weeks that we can go really well.”

Robinson added that the selections reflect the standard of premier club rugby, which he believes has been pretty good despite the dearth of players in some clubs.

“I’ve been happy with the physicality of the club rugby. I just feel that there are a couple of teams there who don’t have the depth, and they fall away late in the games, but I’ve been pretty pleased with the way it’s going, which is a reflection of the number of players we’ve had in contention for our wider squad.

“Club rugby is looking pretty healthy at the moment, and players in all teams are playing really well and putting their hands up.”

Wairarapa-Bush and Central Hawke’s Bay have met only once, last year at Trust House Memorial Park, in a match won by the home side 38-8.

There are sure to be plenty of fireworks with the Stu Smith Memorial Cup on the line. Smith played 44 games as a lock for Wai-Bush from 2000 to 2006 and also represented Nelson Bays, Tasman, and Hawke’s Bay. He died in 2016 after a long battle with motor neuron disease.

“Central Hawkes’ Bay have been training hard and are taking the game very seriously — the Stu Smith Memorial Cup means a lot to both provinces.

“I really think it’s going to be a cracker of a game because the way we’ve trained, the guys are excited, and the way we want to play is wide and expansive, and it’s going to be pretty cool to watch,” Robinson said.

Kick-off is at 2pm, Monday at Central Park Waipukurau.

Wairarapa-Bush: Reece Calkin, Timoci Vatunitu, Nikora Ewe, Harry Eschenbach [vc], Nathan Hunt, Ben Brooking, Fiula Tameilau, Epeli Rayaqayaqa, Jared Hawkins, Logan Wakefield [c], Joseph Gillies, Sam Gammie, Stan Wright Jnr, George Parke, Tupou Lea’aemanu.

Reserves: Ben Collins, Rhys Watkins, Ty Waight, Tom Campbell, Sam Twigley, Himiona Haira, Josh Matthews, Tipene Haira, Zinny Harmon, Gracyn Evans.

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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