By Gary Caffell- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE
Several new faces will be included in the Wairarapa-Bush rugby team for their opening pre-season match against fellow Heartland championship side Horowhenua-Kapiti at Queen’s Birthday weekend.
Head coach Mark Rutene and assistant Paddy Gough won’t finalise their training squad until at least another couple of rounds have been played in the Kapene Cup premier division club competition but the huge number of forward defections from last season, plus the fact they will be selecting only local players for this particular fixture, virtually guarantees the number of prospective debutants will run close to double figures.
Up front there are several gaps to fill despite the return to the fold of experienced campaigners, prop Kurt Simmonds and lock Andrew McLean, who both missed last season because of injury.
Gun loosies James Goodger, Johan Van Vliet and Nathan Iro are all missing, Goodger through injury, Van Vliet through being in the Netherlands where he has forced his way into the national side and Iro through playing his club rugby for Poneke in the Wellington competition.
And if that’s not bad enough there are also big gaps to fill in the middle row where Lachie McFadzean, Wiremu Grace and Clarke Butcher are no longer in consideration, and in the front row where Campbell Lawrence and Ben Pereira are not available. Two of the big success stories from the 2014 Heartland campaign, Finnbarr Kerr-Newell and Jon Fuimaono, are still playing their club rugby in the capital.
Fortunately for Rutene and Gough the situation in the backs is nowhere near as dire with the bulk of last season’s rearguard turning out again and having to withstand challenges from the likes of Eketahuna duo Sam Monaghan and Robbie Anderson, Pioneer’s Damien Kamo-Paku and Greytown’s Teihana Brown, all of whom have been making a big impression on the club scene.
A former Canterbury representative, Monaghan seems likely to slot into the No.10 jersey now that Glen Walters is playing for a Wellington club while Anderson and Brown will be competing for midfield berths and prolific try scorer Kamko-Paku is best suited on the wing.
Though readily conceding the number of pack defections created “a bit of a headache”, Rutene was keen to put a more positive spin on that subject, saying the Horowhenua-Kapiti match will provide a royal opportunity for players who have not yet had the chance to shine at representative level to show they have the skills and the attitude to step up.
“It’s the sort of game where players can make a name for themselves and force their way into the Heartland squad, and hopefully we’ll have a few who do exactly that.”