IT IS a virtual quarter-final match when Waverley Harvesting Border hosts PGG Wrightson/Ballance Taihape at Dallison Park tomorrow.
Thanks to the umpteenth rejigging of the Tasman Tanning Premier draw, the top two teams have not faced each other since Anzac Day, when Border earned the right to say they are the only team to beat the competition leaders at full strength, 15-12 at Memorial Park.
Coach Ross Williams had either played a good bluff or his team rose to the occasion as the build-up to the clash was dominated by Border’s talk of a mounting injury list.
Halfback Lindsay Horrocks had his best match of the season to that point, while Taihape got their first look at destructive midfielder Poasa Waqanibau.
Now, all the mathematics for the semifinals are in play as the winner of the clash is likely to finish top of the table, while the loser should surrender a home semifinal spot to Integrity Motors Pirates, who still have an outside chance at top spot if Border win without a bonus point and they comfortably dispatch Utiku Old Boys.
“It’s a quarter-final, in that we’re not looking further ahead,” said Williams.
“It’s got that feel, certainly.
“No one on our side has spoken about next week.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve played them, with the changes in the draw.
“They’re a great outfit, top of the table, well coached, they are the benchmark.”
The team will have Jack Lupton back at first-five after a week’s break with injury, but have lost second-five Renato Tikoilosomone and prop Lance Devane.
Coming back off the bench last weekend from his injury, veteran No8 Ray Stark should be solid, while last night Border’s coaches were just making sure flanker Kieran Hussy, the MVP points leader, and fullback captain Fraser Middleton are good to go.
It is Middleton and Lupton who Taihape coach Kerry Whale has told his team must be targeted and cramped for any room to either move or think at Dallison Park.
“The first game was pretty close. We didn’t stop them running, so that’s been the focus this week. We enjoy playing Border, they’re good people, play similar to us, it becomes a bit of a chess game really.
“We’re missing a few frontliners, but that’s no excuse because our young guys are just as good.
“We’ll just take over the crew we got, and if we get short we know we’ll probably get another crack next week.”
The pressure game will be crucial, as Taihape will not have the services of their maestro first-five Tom Wells to turn them around with his booming clearances.
Luke Whale has been playing a mix of senior and premier rugby recently to get his fitness up, so is likely to take on more responsibilities.
It will also be halfback Brett Nicholls’ first game back in five weeks since serious concussion, jumping straight into the fire against the Steelform Wanganui incumbent Horrocks.
Ever the motivator, Kerry Whale has been casually reminding Nicholls of Horrocks’ efforts at last year’s game at Dallison Park – diving past the Taihape scrumhalf to score off a fumbled ball.
“Brett’s grown another leg since then, so that should be a neat contest. They have different styles.”
In the other games, Pirates have it all to play for with Utiku but there is unlikely to be any love lost between the two sides, after Utiku’s star fullback/winger Samu Kubunavanua departed the country club three weeks ago, hoping to join up with the city side.
McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu have one more hurdle to lock away the Grand Hotel Challenge Shield for the summer, and get the team bar voucher that goes with it,
when they defend against Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau at the Country Club.
Harvey Round Motors Ratana will be hoping to give fans at the Pa some consolation for a tough year when they host Dave Hoskin Carriers Marist.
By Jared Smith – Wanganui Chronicle