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Wai-Bush not far away

Tafa Tafa, on the attack against Buller, was a solid performer in the midfield for Wai-Bush throughout the Heartland campaign. PHOTOS/FILE

Now that the Heartland Championship has come to a premature end for Farriers Wairarapa-Bush, it is time to reflect on a second consecutive underwhelming campaign.

With only two wins from eight games for the second straight year, it’s hard to plaster over the significant cracks that have led to Wai-Bush’s fall from Meads Cup semifinalists in 2019 to 11th out of 12 in 2022.

So, where does one start?

In Tuesday’s Times-Age, coach Mark Rutene said that the discipline and the poor fitness levels of some players were major factors in the team being unable to push for victory in games they were positioned to win.

Discipline was a significant issue, particularly in the first four games, with penalty counts nearing 20 against and five yellow cards dished out. The yellow card plague dissipated but then returned last Saturday when three players were sent to the ‘naughty chair’ against Buller, who were not good enough to take advantage.

Getting on the wrong side of the referee cost the ‘Green and Reds’ potential victories over Poverty Bay, who scored the game-changing try with Wai-Bush down to 14, and Thames Valley, where needless penalties and a misfunctioning lineout gave the home side a leg up.

You could add in the Horowhenua-Kapiti clash when two yellow cards cost Wai-Bush any chance of getting into the game against decidedly average opposition.

Fitness, though, for me, is the biggie. There’s the personal commitment of each player to reach a high level of fitness to not only be able to finish strongly but also to handle the physical demands of representative rugby.

It was obvious that some players lacked fitness, and others were carrying a few too many kilos, which, if they lost, they could develop into dynamic rugby players.

That brings me to the tricky topic of club rugby, tricky only because of the protective views of clubs clinging forlornly to their premier status.

Clearly, this season, the premier competition comprising three rounds of the ‘Town and Country’ series for the Lane Penn Trophy, which some teams treated as their pre-season, especially if they lost their first game, followed by a full round of seven games and playoffs for the Chris ‘Moose’ Kapene Memorial Trophy, was pitifully inadequate in preparing players for a demanding representative campaign.

My understanding is that many of the average club players enjoyed the shorter season, but teams still struggled to field teams, and the standard was poor.

I might sound like a broken record, but is it time to reduce the number of teams in the premier competition from eight to six or even four, or think outside the square and look at a couple of club teams playing in Wellington or Manawatu, although the likelihood of those being accepted into their premier competitions would be remote.

The Martinborough club are already looking into having an Under-21 side play in Wellington in 2023, which is a step in the right direction.

For the first time in a few seasons, Wai-Bush went away from their policy of homegrown players and allowed imports.

Other than player of origin, midfielder Tafa Tafa, none of them had the desired impact, and it raises the question of whether it was a worthwhile exercise.

The team lacked size in the middle row and at loose forward, as well as the class first-five that most opponents seemed to have at their disposal.

Tupou Lea’aemanu, with ball, was a strong scrummager and powerful ball-runner.

To finish let’s have a look at a few highlights and lowlights.

Best performance – it’s hard to go past the 55-39 drubbing of Buller. There were some outstanding tries among the nine scored, but also too many errors to make it a classic. Maybe the 42-30 win over West Coast was a better all-round performance.

Worst effort – most people would pump for the 19-73 loss to South Canterbury, however, in my opinion the 17-33 loss to an average Horowhenua-Kapiti would push it close.

Strengths – the scrum, where they had the wood on most opposition packs and were rarely bettered.

Weaknesses – the lineouts, where they lost too many – it’s as simple as that. Midfield defence also went missing at vital times.

Stand out players – prop Tupou Lea’aemanu, hooker Sam Siaosi, the ever-reliable Tafa, Charles Mataitai in his limited appearances, and exciting fullback Aseri Waqa. The contributions of the union’s latest centurion Inia Katia, and other veterans James Goodger, Andrew Smith, Eddie Cranston, and Sam Gammie are hard to ignore. The team could do with a few more of their ilk with their never-say-die attitude.

Overall, although the outcome was disappointing, there is some exciting talent to build around, and some hardnosed veterans to complement them.

Just give the players a strong club competition, so they get the right preparation to get Wai-Bush back to challenging for trophies, because they’re not far off being a decent team.

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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