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Boot camp for Whanganui ahead of Taranaki Development XV game

By Jared Smith

Steelform Whanganui will welcome back a few seasoned campaigners and be coming out of their Cooks Gardens ‘boot camp’ when they face Taranaki Development XV on Saturday.

Held annually for the past couple of seasons, as well as their regular Tuesday-Thursday night training sessions, the squad comes together on Friday morning at Cooks Gardens and works for the day, then spends the night, before a light captain’s run on Saturday morning.

Having missed the 38-15 loss to Manawatu Evergreens in Feilding, returning this week are midfielder Timoci Seruwalu, flanker Jamie Hughes, and locks Josh Lane and Peter-Travis Hay-Horton, while new winger Tiari Mumby has recovered from a bout of Covid.

However, Covid will still keep away halfback Lindsay Horrocks and utility Tyler Rogers-Holden, which also means Kahl Elers-Green will be going it alone as the sole No9 with Caleb Gray out of town this weekend.

 “We’ll let Kahl roll there. We can cover it,” said coach Jason Hamlin.

Lock Matt Ashworth, who filled in for the absent Lane and Hay-Horton against the Evergreens, is available for the camp but not the Saturday game.

“We’re replacing one to fit another,” said Hamlin.

“I think we’re pretty much roundabout [full numbers].”

Mumby’s return is well-timed as winger Jack O’Leary, who scored against the Evergreens, has been invited to join the NZ Marist Colts on their upcoming tour of games.

Big prop Keightley Watson has also been selected, however, as the former NZ Marist coach, Hamlin used his connections to get permission for the young man to delay joining the Colts until after Saturday.

“It’ll get the most out of him in terms of his progression.”

Having Hughes back strengthens the loose forwards considerably, however Hamlin was still impressed with Regan Collier’s outing at No7 against the Evergreens, so the openside flanker spot has not been locked in by anybody at this stage.

Hamlin hopes the time together in camp is where the squad will really start to gel and lift their intensity, heading into next month’s Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship.

“As coaches, we put [plans] all on the table for ourselves, and see where everyone falls within that.

“I guess the message to the boys on Tuesday night, as well as I thought they played, was ‘there’s still a lot of work to be done’.

“We’ve just got to get the pace of the game quicker.”

With 2021’s first choice goal kicker Ethan Robinson still at least two weeks from recovery for his shoulder injury, skipper Dane Whale and first-five Brooke Tremayne will likely take a little time for some practice on Cooks, after no conversions were slotted against the Evergreens.

“If they don’t, they’ll find out pretty shortly we’re they should be,” said Hamlin.

“Not having Craig [Clare] limits you, from where you were before.”

As of Wednesday night, it is not known what the composition of the Taranaki Development XV will be, as their Taranaki NPC squad also has a preseason game with Wellington on Saturday.

It is likely at least a handful of the squad will be from the Tukapa and Clifton clubs, who fought out an epic TRU Premier club final at Vogeltown Park last weekend, with underdogs Tukapa pulling off a thrilling 22-21 win.

With several newcomers to the Whanganui lineup, Hamlin will be reminding them of the history of the Jones Brothers Shield, which is on the line.

In 2016, for the first time in over 20 years, the TRU resurrected the shield for games between Whanganui and their Development XV.

Previously, from 1981, the shield was on the line in Queen’s Birthday Weekend games between Whanganui and the full Taranaki NPC side – a fixture that had left the calendar with the advent of professionalism.

Whanganui won the shield in 2016 and have traded it with Taranaki Development twice since, reclaiming it last year in Hawera with a 53-5 victory.

“It’s never nice to let those things slip away,” said Hamlin.

Kickoff is 2.35pm.