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Ranfurly Shield: Mission Impossible ?

GET MOVING: Cody Whittaker is at halfback for Wairarapa-Bush in today's Shield challenge. PHOTO/FILE
GET MOVING: Cody Whittaker is at halfback for Wairarapa-Bush in today’s Shield challenge. PHOTO/FILE

Any honest assessment of Wairarapa-Bush’s chances of successfully challenging Hawke’s Bay for provincial rugby’s top prize, the Ranfurly Shield, in Napier today would have them at zilch.

Yes, the likelihood of wintery conditions and a heavy ground might hinder the home team’s stated intentions of bringing their speedy backs into play at every conceivable opportunity but, even so, they should simply be a class above a new-look Wairarapa-Bush squad which, no matter what the weather, will do well to keep the winning margin below the half-century mark.

It is good that head coach Josh Syms and his captain, Tim Priest, have adopted a positive tone leading into the game. In their heart of hearts, they will know Wairarapa-Bush are confronting mission impossible but people in their position can hardly be that harsh in their comments, can they?

The plain truth is the most Wairarapa-Bush can hope for in today’s game is to come away knowing they gave it their very best shot no matter what the end result.

After the disappointments of last year when they failed to make either the Meads Cup or Lochore Cup semis, they desperately need to build early confidence for the Heartland championship. The more competitive they are here, the bigger the boost their confidence will be given.

There are some intriguing selections in the Wairarapa-Bush starting line-up for today’s game. The front row has only one old face in it, prop Kurt Simmonds. Alongside him will be two players who are making their first-class debut for the province, hooker Hamish Forrester and prop Rei Manaia, the latter an import from the Hutt Old Boys club in Wellington.

The duo of Andrew McLean and Lachie McFadzean give comfort at lock as both have been good enough to be part of national Heartland teams over the past couple of seasons. However, the loose forward trio will raise some eyebrows with another debutante BJ Campbell on the blindside flank, James Goodger on the openside and Johnie McFadzean at No 8. They’ll lack nothing in endeavour but whether they have the pace and physicality to win the often crucial breakdown battle against opposition of this calibre is another matter.

There are so many new combinations in the Wairarapa-Bush backline it is virtually impossible to predict how they will perform. The inside pairing of Cody Whittaker and skipper Tim Priest will have huge responsibility to run the cutter on attack and defence and how they cope with that challenge will be vital to the Wairarapa-Bush cause. Midfielders Byron Karaitiana and Matt Dalley have had scant opportunity to play together and, while wing Nick Olson has been around the representative scene for a good while, the other wing, Ryan Saunders, still has plenty to prove. And the same can be said of fullback Corey McFadzean.

By Gary Caffell – Wairarapa Times-Age

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