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Harwood sticks with homegrown advantage

Having used only homegrown players for last season’s Heartland Championship should hold Wairarapa-Bush in good stead in this year’s shortened representative rugby season.

With the cancellation of the 2020 Heartland Championship because of the covid-19 pandemic, a reduced season starting on September 5 and featuring two games against Horowhenua-Kapiti, and one each against Wanganui, Poverty Bay, and King Country was confirmed by the Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union last week.

The green and reds made the semifinals of the 2019 Meads Cup using only local players or those with a connection with the province, and that created a unique camaraderie within the team.

Joe Harwood.

Coach Joe Harwood thought that could be to their advantage this year.

“I think it’s exciting that everybody is using only local-based players and that gives an extra incentive for guys to really have a crack and put their hand up,” he said.

“There’s a cup on the line for every one of those games, and they’ll be first-class matches for the boys. Even though it’s not a formal Heartlands competition, there’s still plenty riding on it.”

Harwood was wary of the potential impact of the shortened and later-than-usual club season, especially on players whose lives and work may have been affected by the covid-19 lockdown.

“I’m fully supportive of having some form of rep rugby, but we just need to balance that with the year we’ve had, and the impact on people just in terms of the length of the programme.”

“The one thing we need to do straight away is to get the programme to potential players and just with the landscape we’ve had this year with covid is just trying to get guys committed to that seven-week programme at the end of club rugby.”

Players with local roots who have returned to play locally include 2019 Wai-Bush captain and No 8 Kirk Tufuga and former Canterbury Under-19 lock Tom McKay, both for Eketahuna, East Coast halfback Cam Ravenwood, who has played premier club rugby in Christchurch, and flying winger Soli Malatai and locks Peter and Joe Beech for Marist.

Harwood said it was good to have the talented players back in the region.

“It’s good having the Beech boys back and Tom McKay. I think I coached him at Rathkeale years ago, so it’s a real good positive, and hopefully we can get some attractive rugby out there.”

However, Harwood, who played 61 games at hooker for Wairarapa-Bush from 2002-10, was disappointed with some of the club rugby he has seen so far this season.

“It’s a bit of a mixed bag. I watched Greytown beat Gladstone a couple of weeks ago, and they looked very sharp and confident across the field,” he said.

“I watched Carterton and Gladstone at the weekend, and unfortunately, the skill level across the park was pretty poor in terms of the execution, which was well below par, and a little bit disappointing.”

“It didn’t mean there wasn’t intent – it’s just the execution. It’s still early days, we’re only three weeks in, but it’s certainly an area we want to see improvement from a rep perspective.”

Harwood said he aimed to see the remaining teams over the coming weeks.

“I’m going to watch Eke and Pioneer this weekend. The other two teams I haven’t seen are East Coast and Martinborough, so I’ll get around those ones in the next few weeks as well.”

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz