This year’s Tasman Tanning Premier semifinals at the Dallison and Spriggens parks have been some of the toughest to predict as consistent form clashes with big-match experience, leaving most agreeing it really is all about who will turn up on the day.
History would hold that a third straight McCarthy’s Transport Ruapehu vs Integrity Motors Pirates grand final could be on the cards, but Border will feel after falling at the penultimate hurdle over those years, their time is more than due to get past the team from Ohakune.
Men like captain Fraser Middleton, fiery lock Sam Madams and hooker Cole Baldwin are just some of the veterans who are tired of missing out on finals day.
“Can’t let emotions get on top of us,” said Border coach Ross Williams. “They’re dead set – Lindsay [Horrocks] never won one, I don’t think Ray Stark’s ever won one.”
For Taihape, victory will confirm their three years of progression, as they move from fortunate semifinalists in 2013, through to unlucky underdogs last year, and now power players wanting to hand Pirates a third straight loss to make the championship match.
“We’re definitely not going in there like we’ve got the wood on them,” said Taihape assistant coach and first five Tom Wells.
“We’ll be disappointed if we don’t progress to the final.
“We feel that we’re on that level. But if we don’t ‘turn up’, we won’t deserve it.”
Virtually every major road sign and hay bale on the highway to Waverley has been emblazoned with “Go Border” this week, with a bumper home crowd expected at Dallison Park.
“The community’s excited. They’ve done a lot of work,” Williams said. “You just have to embrace [that expectation]. Our side’s really excited to have a home semi.”
After beating Ruapehu in Ohakune by 17-14 with a final-quarter comeback at Easter, Border found the perennial contenders had finally hit their stride come June when they were dumped 25-14 at home.
It was the result that turned around Ruapehu’s year. With veteran personnel like flanker Peter Rowe back on board they won six straight games to take fourth spot and set themselves for another championship tilt.
Everyone – from the front row of Roman Tutauha and Kim McNaught, through to No8 captain Andrew Evans and alternating first five/fullbacks George Williams and Zyon Hekenui – knows what it takes to win sudden-death games.
As usual, Williams’ charges are preparing for a side that will look to break them in the pack, phase by phase, while kicking for territory and hounding Border’s back three at every turn.
“You know how they play, we know how they play. They’re just so bloody good at it. We’ve just got to make sure we improve on last week [against Taihape].”
A big blow is the loss of first five Jack Lupton with a groin strain, allowing drop-goal specialist James Forsythe to return to the No10 jersey.
The prospect of the battle between the competition’s form second fives, Border’s Poasa Waqanibau and Ruapehu’s Troy Brown, is mouth watering.
For Taihape, Wells and former Highlanders fullback Glen Horton are among several key players returning after missing last weekend’s loss to Border.
Flanker Timi Teepa will be the only key man absent, while Taihape will keep faith with fullback Luke Whale as first-choice goal kicker and hope he can recapture the form of 2013 when he saved several close games with the boot.
Taihape are the only team to beat Pirates twice this year – 19-18 in March and 10-5 in June – but that means little now against the attack-oriented home side.
“Form goes out the window,” said Wells. “They would be the best attacking team in the comp, and the best outside [backs] in terms of pace.
“It’s obvious – shut down Lasa [Ulukuta] and Denning [Tyrell] – and most of the time that doesn’t work. They’ve still got 13 other buggers more than capable of ripping you apart.”
Gordon Ririnui will have the whistle in Waverley, while Kawana Tihema handles the duties at Spriggens Park. Both games will kick off at 2.35pm.
Jared Smith- Wanganui Chronicle