Epeli Rayaqayaqa attacking against North Otago last weekend. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

RUGBY

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

Wairarapa-Bush will be without the services of two key players when they take on Horowhenua-Kapiti in the Heartland Championship Lochore Cup final tomorrow in Levin [2.30pm].

Regular first five-eighth Glen Walters has headed overseas to take up a contract in Zimbabwe, while livewire flanker Epeli Rayaqayaqa cannot play on Sundays, for religious reasons.

The absence of Walters means the versatile Tipene Haira slots in at first five-eighth, with his Martinborough teammate Tim Priest earning a call-up to the bench.

Priest has not featured for Wairarapa-Bush this year, but is a seasoned campaigner who has plenty of experience at Heartland level.

Rayaqayaqa has started some matches but has also been used as an impact player off the bench, and his omission means Sam Shaw gets a spot in the reserves.

The rest of the team remains unchanged after putting in an inspired performance against North Otago last weekend.

Coach Joe Harwood said it was unfortunate Walters and Rayaqayaqa would be unavailable for the biggest match of the year.

“It’s just unfortunate for Epeli that he has been able to play all season and then is unavailable for the final, but we fully respect that.

“Glen Walters had a contract that he signed before the Heartland season kicked off, to play over in Zimbabwe.

“He had put it back as much as he could, and we knew at the start of August that if we made the final, he would be unavailable.”

There had been some hope that Walters – who played such an important role in last weekend’s semifinal win – would be able to delay his move for another week, but that could not be arranged.

Harwood said the coaches had “absolute confidence” in Haira in the No 10 position, and had no problem calling Priest into the squad.

“As unfortunate as it is [Walter’s absence], Tipe will come in and we know he will do a good job.

“We needed specialist cover at 10, so we’ve brought Tim Priest on to the bench this weekend, and he slotted in at training on Tuesday like he had been there the whole season.”

Harwood described Priest as a confident, experienced and smart footballer, which would be important in a final.

The team had some fun at Tuesday night’s training, playing games in their mini units to keep the players fresh and focused.

Thursday night’s training was more serious, looking at where they may be able to attack a Horowhenua-Kapiti team who they have struggled against this year.

Horowhenua-Kapiti won the pre-season clash between the two teams 32-6, and the round robin match 37-21.

“Defence is massive against these guys – they’ve got some big ball runners they rely heavily on, and they’ve got some threats in the midfield too,” Harwood said.

“It comes down to attitude – if we sit back, we invite them to get over the advantage line, so we need to get up and meet them like we did last week against North Otago.”

The referee for tomorrow’s match will be Richard Kelly.

WAIRARAPA-BUSH
Inia Katia, Finn Yeats, Robbie Anderson, Mike Lealava’a, Soli Malatai, Tipene Haira, Daryl Pickering, Kirk Tufuga, Ryan Knell, Tavita Isaac, Andrew Smith, James Goodger [c], Max Tufuga, James Pakoti, Sam Gammie.
Reserves: Nicholas Hohepa, Jeremiah Mapusua, Lachie McFadzean, Sam Shaw, Tim Priest, Cameron Hayton, Tristan Flutey.