Preview: Steelform Wanganui vs Wairarapa Bush

Wanganui must lift in Bruce Steel Memorial Cup challenge to Wairarapa Bush at Cooks Gardens

“Fight on my men,” says Sir Andrew Barton,
I am hurt, but I am not slain;
I’ll lay me down and bleed a-while,
And then I’ll rise and fight again”.”  Thomas Moore

By Jared Smith

There would have been horror movies less uncomfortable to watch for the Steelform Wanganui squad than the game tape of last weekend’s mistake-riddled defeat against King Country.

But learn their lessons from the footage they must, as the team prepares for their sole home representative fixture in 2020, and the chance to regain some precious silverware, as a strong Wairarapa Bush side brings the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup to Cooks Gardens on Saturday.

It was a game which one Wanganui player described as not even up to club rugby level when Wanganui lost 16-11 to King Country – a match they were leading 11-10 with six minutes to go, only to turn over possession and concede two late penalties.

Photo from Merrilyn George

“Had a bit of a talk and watched a bit of video and review. We knew we weren’t up to standard on Saturday,” said coach Jason Caskey.

The message from the coaches after Wanganui went ahead was to kick for territory and trap King Country inside their own 22m, but neither reserve halfback Cameron Davies nor fullback-turned first five Craig Clare could do that from a scrum near halfway due to a handful of young forwards setting themselves up for ruck carries, rather than a defensive screen for the kick, leading to a costly penalty.

“Some of it is a bit of communication, and we talked about that with our game drivers about making decisions and communicating that to the rest of the guys,” said Caskey.

“The message has to be clear, not just talk about it with each other.”

Hopefully being back on the familiar Cooks Gardens ground for the likes of Clare, halfback Lindsay Horrocks, and first-five Dane Whale will allow them to set some clear direction for their team mates.

Photo from Merrilyn George

Caskey is likely to tinker a little with the lineup this weekend, with winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone’s back feeling better after resting last weekend, while hooker Dylan Gallien’s ribs are also recovering nicely and he could likely make his return.

However, lock Jack Hodges (knee) is  gone for the season rather than risk further damage, while midfielder Ethan Robinson (ankle) could well be in the same boat.

In a bit of good news, older brother Cade Robinson is still available after being given a slap on the wrist but no stand-down by the NZRU judiciary, following his red card on fulltime by King Country-based referee Chris Cowie for allegedly swearing at him.

“Realistically, it was a yellow card offence. [But] you’ve got to be mindful about what you say,” said Caskey.

“Hopefully this week we’re not be penalised for being too fast on defence,” he added, having reviewed the match footage and finding his side were unfortunate with some of the assistant referee calls that went against them.

Arriving at Cooks Gardens will be an imposing Wairarapa Bush unit, who like King Country, are playing their final match of a shortened 2020 campaign.

Photo from Merrilyn George

The Masterton-based team really stepped up in quality last year in the Heartland Championship, where despite a grueling road schedule including three South Island games, they finished the regular season with a 6-2 record, and came within a hair’s breath of upsetting eventual Meads Cup winners North Otago in the Oamaru semifinal, losing 27-25 despite a late comeback.

One of their highlights was in Week 1 by beating Wanganui 28-18 in Masterton to lift the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup off them for only the second time in 49 years.

The roll has continued this season with four straight wins, which included Horowhenua Kapiti 47-24 last weekend in the Bruce Steel round-robin, meaning Saturday’s match is a straight final for that silverware.

“Playing Wairarapa Bush, they’re going well and that can be a good thing for us – hopefully it lifts our standard as well,” said Caskey.

“They’ve definitely got their fair share of threats. Those guys at No6-8, and out wide. Keeps you on your toes, definitely.”

Last year, the side was carried on the broad shoulders of four Tufuga family members, and although only two of them remain, they are the big brothers in captain Kirk at No8 and Max at prop.

Playing last weekend on the wings were Soli Malatai, who scored five tries in one 2018 Heartland match, and the versatile veteran Inia Katia, who has known plenty of success over Wanganui in both XV and Sevens rugby.

Kickoff is at 2.35pm, following the 1pm curtain-raiser of Wanganui Women vs Wairarapa Bush.

Wairarapa Bush 2020 games

Preseason: bt Horowhenua-Kapiti 41-8.

First Class: bt King Country 22-18; bt Poverty Bay 46-26; bt Horowhenua-Kapiti 47-24.

Wanganui 2020 games

Preseason: lost to Hawke’s Bay Saracens 36-12.

First Class: bt Horowhena-Kapiti 36-7; lost to King Country 16-11.

The Wanganui team will be selected from

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

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

Remaining First Class games October 17: Wairarapa Bush, Whanganui (Bruce Steel Memorial Cup round-robin); October 24: Poverty Bay, Napier (Curtain-raiser to Hawke’s Bay vs Manawatu).