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‘A lot riding on it’


A CRUNCH game at home — tomorrow may provide the best evidence yet of whether Poverty Bay have what it takes to be contenders in rugby’s Heartland Championship.

“Almost must-win” is how Poverty Bay rugby captain Ken Houkamau characterises tomorrow’s match against Mid Canterbury at Rugby Park, because the need for competition points is getting urgent.

“There’s a lot riding on it,” Houkamau said.

“Hopefully, we get a good crowd.”

It’s early in the season for the stakes to be so high but this match — against mid-table opponents — is potentially season-defining.

Contract Consultants Poverty Bay had mid-table opponents last week, Wairarapa Bush, and didn’t quite get the job done.

If they win tomorrow, they could provide reasonable grounds for thinking they can make a run for the top four, or at least be strong prospects for the Lochore Cup in the tier below that.

If they lose, doubts about their ability will take root.

“Our minds are still firmly fixed on the Meads Cup playoffs,” Houkamau said. He believes Poverty Bay need to win three of their next four games to be in the frame for the top four.

The Bay, 10th on the competition ladder after one win and three losses, have much ground to make up but some of the top sides are yet to play each other and the standard of play across the competition is relatively even.

Houkamau said the team had not been far away from clicking and they were receiving great support.

“Now it’s up to us to deliver.”

New fullback Beaudein Waaka picked up a niggle last week and has been ruled out, so Andrew Tauatevalu will start at the back.

Hunter Mokomoko returns to the side at left wing and Tane McGuire moves from first five-eighth to centre and Kelvin Smith will start at No.10.

McGuire and second-five Jacob Leaf are a fresh midfield combination and Ethine Reeves is almost certain to provide impact off the substitutes bench.

The side had a welcome boost this week, with imposing openside flanker Adrian Wyrill and promising blindside flanker Quade Tapsell cleared to play.

“Adrian Wyrill and Quade Tapsell both missed the last game through injury,” Poverty Bay coach Tom Cairns said.

“However, they will be available for the game this week and this will certainly strengthen our pack.”

Cairns said the backline should “prove a handful, provided we look after our set-piece ball”.

Poverty Bay have been focusing on their finishing this week.

Houkamau said they created opportunities to score more tries against Wairarapa Bush but didn’t cash in.

They’ve also worked on being more accurate around rucks.

Cairns said the right attitude that was evident in parts of matches would need to be there for the full game against Mid Canterbury.

“We were disappointed not to get more from the Wairarapa Bush game and we are getting to that point in the season where 80-minute efforts, and points at the end of it, are crucial.”

The Gisborne Herald asked after the Wairarapa Bush match if tomorrow’s game was essentially a chance for a do-over. Cairns said they would work on things that needed fixing but would mostly be looking forward.

He and the players also had to find the optimum level of intensity — staying relaxed before games but focused.

Mid Canterbury had a 13-all draw against South Canterbury last Saturday and an extraordinary 43-41 loss to West Coast the previous week.

Cairns said Mid Canterbury had threats across the park, including powerful loose forwards.

“They also have dangerous outside backs with power and pace.

“It will be an exciting game and a really good battle.”

Mid Canterbury coach Dale Palmer said Poverty Bay had shown they had the ability to score tries.

He was happy with his side’s defence last week.

Palmer said both teams were positioned on the points table in places they didn’t want to be.

“It’s a very important game for both sides. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Kick-off is at 2.30pm.

POVERTY BAY: Andrew Tauatevalu, Scotty McKinley, Tane McGuire, Jacob Leaf, Hunter Mokomoko, Kelvin Smith, Willy Grogan, Tamanui Hill, Adrian Wyrill, Quade Tapsell, Gabe Te Kani, Ken Houkamau (c), Semisi Akana, Rikki Terekia, Toru Noanoa.

Reserves: Matekaeroa McGuire, Lance Dickson, Juston Allen, Will Bolingford, Mario Counsell, Ethine Reeves, Hunter, Matt Raleigh.

MID CANTERBURY: Matt McAtamney, Manasa Bari, Josh McAtamney, Nete Caucau, Timoci Nabakeke, Corey McKay, Will Mackenzie, Jon Dampney (c), Seta Koroitamana, Tevita Ula, Matt Bentley, Eric Duff, Sorby Sorvea, Jackson Donlan, Tom Heywood.

Reserves: Joel Leo, Matt Groom, Ataata Langilangi, Hamish Madden, Cory Sinclair, Tyler Blackburn, Lima Savainea.

TIME TO DELIVER: Poverty Bay captain Ken Houkamau, pictured taking the ball into contact against North Otago, says plenty is riding on tomorrow’s match against Mid Canterbury at Rugby Park. Picture by Paul Rickard