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East Coast as ready as they'll ever be for South Canterbury


Ngati Porou East Coast are as ready as they’ll ever be for South Canterbury, come 2.30pm tomorrow.

The Week 4 Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship clash between the Hosea Gear-coached Sky Blues — a team working assiduously on all aspects to improve as individuals and as a group — and competition leaders Farmside South Canterbury under Nigel Walsh, at Enterprise Cars Whakarua Park in Ruatoria, could be a boomer.

The Coast, for reasons of population and geography, almost always have underdog status but it is a title they carry with pride and wear as stout armour.

Gear and his men know that as the ninth-placed outfit (three competition points) taking on the crew that has won three from three with 15 points (ahead of also-unbeaten Thames Valley on points-differential), the home team will have to be switched on well-before kick-off.

Head coach Gear said: “We’ve trained well this week and we’re ready to go — we know that our defence has to be not just good, but great.”

The Sky Blues will start Peter Mirrielees at hooker for Jorian Tangaere, Richard Green comes in for Gabe Te Kani to partner Riki Waitoa at lock, Hone Haerewa will switch from No.8 to the blindside flank, Willie Bolingford from the openside to No.8, No.6 Tanira Tamanui-Nepia moving to No.7. The outstanding Te Rangi Fraser moves from fullback to first-five for Rapata Haerewa, with Hamuera Moana to start at fullback.

Speedster Ngarohi McGarvey-Black and Te Wehi Wright will again start on the left and right wing, respectively.

NPEC captain Hone Haerewa is happy that his team’s done what it needed to do this week in preparation for what will be the toughest game of the season so far: “We’ve got a lot of clarity ahead of our meeting tonight.

“South Canterbury are dangerous out wide — we’ll need to play strong right across the park.”

The visitors’ skipper, fetcher Nick Strachan, has experienced Whakarua Park before — and crowd or no crowd, Delta Level 2 restrictions or not, nothing will make the task of subduing the Sky Blues any easier.

“It’s one of the toughest places to visit,” said Strachan, who has 93 South Canterbury caps. He and his Celtics club teammate Mat Fetu, a tighthead prop capped 110 times, will be at the heart of South Canterbury’s forward effort.

Long-serving halfback Theo Davidson will earn his 50th cap tomorrow off the bench.

Their back three of Kalavini Leatigaga (left-wing), Sireli Buliruarua (right-wing) and fullback Lieuli Simote exist to hammer home their team’s physical presence at set-piece and in the loose.

The Southerners’ wins against Buller (48-13), Wairarapa-Bush (61-17) and 72-0 (King Country) speak to their ability to rattle up tries. They are a powerful unit.

NPEC must make hard tackles first-up and retain possession of the ball under pressure if they are to achieve the upset of the championship to date.

Their captain must receive help at line-out time, the scrum-effort must be a strong one. They need their forwards to carry strongly, their backs to communicate, pass and run well. Across the park, only a total team performance with as few mistakes as possible will do against the green and blacks.

Tomorrow will see the 17th meeting of the sides since South Canterbury won 18-13 at Timaru in 1986: head-to-head, the Southerners have won 16, NPEC 3, with the Sky Blues’ first victory, 29-23, coming on August 22, 1998. The Coast’s next win, 18-6, came on October 9, 1999.

NPEC last beat South Canterbury 20-14 on August 19, 2000, in the first Coast-SC meeting that year. The Southerners won the return match 12-6 at Timaru on September 9, in the Sky Blues’ second straight National Provincial Championship third division-winning season.

All three of The Coast’s triumphs against South Canterbury came at Whakarua Park. The teams have played for the Allan “Smiley” Haua Memorial Trophy since 2012: the Smiley Haua (1947-2012), a veteran of the Vietnam War, was born and raised on the East Coast, was a life member and kaumatua (elder) of the South Canterbury Rugby Union.

The referee at Enterprise Cars Whakarua Park from 2.30pm on Saturday will be general manager of Hawke’s Bay Basketball Nick Hogan (31, Hawke’s Bay) — who controlled Poverty Bay v West Coast in Gisborne last weekend — in his 35 first-class appointment. Hogan’s assistant referees are East Coast’s Jackson Reuben-Swinton (AR1) and Eruera Kawhia (AR2).

The curtain-raiser at 12 midday will feature Reuben-Swinton’s Ngati Porou East Coast women’s team led by Shirley Mullany-Mato against Eastern Bay of Plenty.

NGATI POROU EAST COAST: Jody Tuhaka, Peter Mirrielees, Perrin Manuel, Riki Waitoa, Richard Green, Hone Haerewa (captain), Tanira Tamanui-Nepia, William Bolingford, Sam Parkes, Te Rangi Fraser, Ngarohi Black, Te Manu Herewini, Tawhao Stewart, Te Wehi Wright, Hamuera Moana. Reserves: Jorian Tangaere, Myles Lardelli-Muir Tawa, George Waddy, Jack Richardson, Josh Dearden, Tutere Waenga, Teina Potae.

FARMSIDE SOUTH CANTERBURY: Vaka Taelega, Junior Faavae, Mathew Fetu, Henry Bruce, Anthony Amato, John Borland, Nick Strachan (c), Loni Toumohuni, William Wright, Sam Briggs, Kalavini Leatigaga, James Hawkey, Zachary Mckay, Sireli Buliruarua, Lieuli Simote. R: Conor Anderson, Tokomaata Fakatava, Siu Kakala, Cam Russell, Salesi Savelio, Theo Davidson, Zac Saunders.

TACKLE THAT: East Coast hooker Vinnie Te Maipi prepares to unleash big loosehead prop Keaton McIlroy. Pictures by Gordon Noble-Campbell, chairman, Hurricanes Youth Rugby Council
WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY: East Coast fullback Manawa Snowden-Rameka (left) weighs up his options against Hawke’s Bay u16 development centre Vito Otutaha.