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Early face-off for top Prem teams

RUNNING HOT: Taihape flanker Marcus Tottman scores one of his two tries in Taihape's important 25-23 win over Ruapehu in Ohakune on Saturday.PHOTO/BERNADETTE NEPE 20042015WCSUPRUGBYTRY
RUNNING HOT: Taihape flanker Marcus Tottman scores one of his two tries in Taihape’s important 25-23 win over Ruapehu in Ohakune on Saturday.PHOTO/BERNADETTE NEPE

THE first real clues to where the power lies currently in the Tasman Tanning Premier competition could be revealed tomorrow as the top four teams will meet each other – three of them putting unbeaten records on the line.

Integrity Motors Pirates host the surprise package of 2015, Utiku Old Boys, at Spriggens Park, while an undermanned Waverley Harvesting Border take the Grand Hotel Shield with them for another long trek to Memorial Park to face frontrunners PGG Wrightson/Ballance Taihape.

Coming off the bye, Pirates will also be undermanned with two players involved in tomorrow’s nights Flava Rise of the Fallen boxing card, along with the latest disciplinary kerfuffle to hit Wanganui rugby.

Reserve Uaealasi Taumaletua has been handed a heavy ten week suspension for official misconduct while stalwart first-five Denny Tyrell has 30 hours “community service” – washing team jerseys – after both confronted referee Ben Lourie in Pirates’ narrow win over Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist on Saturday April 4.

Taumaletua pushed Lourie while Tyrell verbally abused him after the young official initially ruled Pirates’ winning try was held up, which was reversed on touch judge review.

WRFU club development officer Paul Kenny said Lourie did not place the pair on report and was reprimanded for it because the incident was very serious in front of many witnesses.

The union requested Pirates take internal action and Kenny said they accepted the club’s self-imposed four week ban for Taumaletua and two weeks for Tyrell, until it was yanked off the table.

“There was a whole procedural thing on that, right throughout.

“One of their committee members said it wasn’t handled constitutionally … they rescinded it.

“By them interfering it cost them another six weeks.”

WRFU consulted the New Zealand Rugby Union, who advised them they could still discipline Taumaletua under a misconduct charge, with the WRFU Judicial Committee handed down the sentence last week.

Pirates coach Phillip Morris said it was a shame a long time servant like Tyrell, who also wrote an official letter of apology to Lourie, had to go through it.

“It’s just the way it was handled – it was an embarrassment. We move on.”

Looking ahead, Morris admitted he did not think that by week six of the competition his defending champions would be facing an undefeated Utiku.

“No. Probably their results are the good news on the competition.

“We’ll have to keep our wits.”

While Samu Kubunavanua has a broken arm, his Fijian brethren in Michael Nabuliwaqa, Semi Rabradra, and Malakai Volou are now hitting their straps in their second Wanganui club season, although Morris dismisses the notion Utiku’s pace out wide was carrying the team, particularly Utiku’s forwards.

“Everyone says they’re struggling, but I’ve never witnessed a poor Utiku forward pack.

“We know how these boys play, it’s a matter of cutting their space down and not making errors down that channel.”

A talking point will be the emergence of another Ulukuta brother on the scene, as ‘Pene’ Ulukuta joins his brother and captain Lasa Ulukuta at Pirates, with Sikeli (Bobo) Ulukuta already another fixture in the Border lineup.

Border coach Ross Williams still thinks it’s “way too early” to say who will emerge as the dominant team, although he tips his hat to Taihape opposite Kerry Whale ahead of the tough away game at Memorial Park.

Never one to lack confidence, Whale had watched Border’s narrow 17-14 win over former powerhouses Ruapehu on April 4 and came away saying he saw nothing that worried him.

“I’ll let him do the talking – they’re the benchmark,” said Williams.

“This weekend is the big weekend and they’re the form team.”

Border were in the market for a first-five at training last night as Jack Lupton will be away chasing a hydroplane national title.

Five other players are unavailable with prop Kamipeli Latu injured and Karl Priddle doing his hamstring, along with a couple of former senior players who are also out for this week.

Meanwhile, Taihape only get stronger with flanker Marcus Tottman returning and scoring two tries as his team finally ended their 23-game hoodoo against McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu last weekend.

He adds to a light but mobile forward pack, while halfback James Barrett is also in good form and will want to test himself against Steelform Wanganui incumbent Lindsay Horrocks.

Both Ruapehu and Harvey Round Motors are still hunting for their first win of the season when they meet at the Ratana Pa tomorrow, while Marist and Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau have the bye.

By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle

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