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Match Preview: Steelform Wanganui v King Country [10th Oct 2020]

King Country determined to take the Pinetree from Steelform Wanganui

By Jared Smith

For Steelform Wanganui, Saturday represents the first of two big matches where their opposition will be treating it like a Heartland Championship final.

Buoyed by their 36-7 win over Horowhenua-Kapiti last Saturday, their 70th victory in 85 clashes against the Levin union, Wanganui will now head north to meet their other provincial neighbour King Country to defend the Sir Colin Meads Memorial Trophy.

One of the first items to grab a visitor’s eye as they walk in the front door of the WRFU offices, the ‘Pinetree Log’ was introduced in 2017 for games of significance between the sides, and has yet to leave Wanganui’s care.

Having started their shortened first-class season before Wanganui, this is King Country’s fourth and final match, leaving Wanganui coach Jason Caskey under no illusions of how they will treat the challenge.

“They’ll have plenty of motivation for it.

“We’ve learnt the lesson well and truly, several times, you never take the foot off with these fellas.

“You want to work hard and be kept honest.”

While Wanganui has had the edge on King Country in recent seasons – the last loss being the 2014 regular season, followed by a draw in 2015 – repeated trips into a warm Te Kuiti has seen a familiar scripts of the visitors shooting out to comfortable leads, only to have the home side come back strong in the second stanza, if not quite enough to win.

After Wanganui felt the heat in Napier against Hawke’s Bay Development XV, Caskey knows conditions could be just as hot for this game at the Taumarunui Domain in October rugby on the Central Plateau.

“It’s pretty much what you’d expect at this time of year.

 “It was good news, really, on the injury front.

“We might be able to have more than two backs on the bench, if it’s these hot days, and we’ve had some before.”

After the backs injury mini-crisis, both Ethan Robinson and Cody Hemi were able to do light training without heavy contact on Tuesday, Hemi a real possibility to make his Wanganui return, while utility back Tyler Rogers-Holden (pictured below) , impressive in Napier, comes back after being unavailable last Saturday.

The two players who got a little banged up at the Shannon Domain in winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone and prop Wiremu Cottrell are both still running around, as is hooker Dylan Gallien as he recovers from his rib injury.

With players coming back or settling in, given a handful of them made their first-class debuts last week, Caskey’s focus has been making sure all offloads go to hand after a scrappy opening half against Horowhenua-Kapiti.

“Just a lot of things we need to tidy up – people not quite being in the right place and doing the jobs they needed to be doing.

“It let us down in the set piece. It’s everyone nailing their roles and how they should be done.

“But you got Alekesio Vakarorogo, Semi Vodosese, Matt Ashworth all learning, you can’t expect it in 1-2 weeks.”

On Wednesday, Caskey was watching footage of King Country’s 34-22 away win over East Coast, but in perhaps a bit of foxing, King Country did not play their trump card in that match.

Therefore, Saturday at home will be the 100th first class game for their captain, the much respected Carl Carmichael, who had a solid career with Taranaki before coming back to his home province and playing another 36 NPC matches for them, making the NZ Heartland XV in 2014 and 2018-19.

Their head coach is former Waikato and Irish halfback Isaac Boss, who played Wanganui in Waikato’s 2016 Ranfurly Shield challenge, and is working with a predominantly new-look team.

After Carmichael, the next most experienced players are Joe Perawiti and winger Stephan Turner, who will receive his blazer on Saturday after playing his 25th first-class game for the union.

King Country’s short representative season started with a 39-19 loss at home to Bay of Plenty Academy, before travelling to Masterton for a narrow 22-18 defeat to Wairarapa Bush, followed by the win over East Coast in Opotiki.

The Sir Colin Meads Memorial Trophy is to honour the 133-game All Black legend, who played in multiple Wanganui-King Country combined teams against international touring sides.

Sir Colin Meads wins the lineout for Wanganui-King Country against the British Lions in 1971 … (Fairfax Media)

The trophy was the idea of WRFU historian JB Phillips, who approached Sir Colin’s close friends John and Ruth Palamountain to commission it.

Permission was given by the Meads family, with son Glynn Meads (Below) representing them when the trophy, appropriately made of pine wood, was unveiled at Cooks Gardens in 2017.

Blair Symes of Display Associates was able to construct the trophy on short notice to be ready for that game.

Glynn Meads lifted the veil on the trophy in the presence of Wanganui and King Country rugby officials, along with New Zealand Rugby Union president Maurice Trapp.

‘Pinetree Log’ Games

2017: Wanganui won 80-3 (Cooks Gardens)

2018: Wanganui won 36-19 (Te Kuiti)

2019: Wanganui won 57-19 (Cooks Gardens)

The Wanganui team will be selected from

Forwards: Wiremu Cottrell, Kamipeli Latu, Gabriel Hakaraia, Hadlee Hay-Horton, Joe Edwards, Jack Yarrall, Josh Lane, Jack Hodges, Matt Ashworth, Jamie Hughes, Campbell Hart, Cade Robinson, Lennox Shanks, Semi Vodosese.

Backs: Lindsay Horrocks, Cameron Davies, Dane Whale, Craig Clare, Timoci Seruwalu, Ethan Robinson, Josaia Bogileka, Vereniki Tikoisolomone, Alekesio Vakarorogo, Dillon Adrole, Tyler Rogers-Holden, Cody Hemi.

Remaining First Class games
October 10: King Country, Taumarunui (Sir Colin Meads Memorial Trophy)
October 17: Wairarapa Bush, Whanganui (Bruce Steel Memorial Cup round-robin)
October 24: Poverty Bay, Napier (Curtain-raiser to Hawke’s Bay vs Manawatu)


HAPPENINGS

Pic supplied by Gillian Lennox

BARBARIANS: Whanganui Collegiate 1st XV’s talented halfback/first-five combination Adam Lennox and Harry Godfrey will play in the NZ Schools Barbarians Under 18’s game in Hamilton on Friday morning. The Andy Haden XV vs Alan Whetton XV game will kickoff at 11am, live on Sky Sport Channel 51.

HURRICANES: The WRFU will host 2020 Engine Room next Thursday, October 15. It is a scrum specific training session with Hurricanes scrum coach Dan Cron and development officer Darren Larsen. All coaches and tight five players are welcome, 5.15-6.45pm. Email tyrone.kemp@wanganuirugby.co.nz to register.

DIPLOMA: The WRFU is offering local placings for the Manukau Institute of Technology’s NZ Diploma in Sport, Recreation & Exercise (Level 5). Students will act as interns at the Wanganui Rugby Football Union while earning their diplomas. For more information, email simon.dibben@wanganuirugby.co.nz.