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Must-win game for Waiapu

LINEOUT TAKE : Paddy Allen secures lineout ball for Ruatoria City against Hicks Bay this season. Picture by Doone Harrison

RUGBY by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
Published: July 7, 2017

FIRST, they have to beat City.

Fifth-placed Waiapu have 43 competition points and host team No.3 — Ruatoria City, on 50 points — at George Nepia Memorial Park in Rangitukia at 2.30pm tomorrow.

It is a must-win game for Waiapu, knowing that fourth-placed Uawa have 49 points.

A win at home against City would be worth four points; the win plus four tries would yield a total of five points. If Waiapu then beat pace-setters Hikurangi (59pts) at Whakarua Park next Saturday for an additional four points, and if Uawa lose tomorrow and again to City in the last weekend of round-robin play, Waiapu should make the semifinals in two weeks.

“No matter what our result is, if Uawa win (against Hicks Bay at Wharekahika), we’re gone — but we’re not thinking about that,” said manager Kahu Waitoa.

“Our nine Coast-based players leave for Gisborne in the treasurer’s van every Friday at 4pm for 6pm training with coach Len Wawatai,” said Waitoa, who turned out in Waiapu’s orange and black himself between 1980 and 2004.

“I take those nine boys twice a week — on Tuesdays and Thursdays — here at home. This team’s always 100 percent up to play rugby — the banter, the enthusiasm for Waiapu — it’s unbelievable.

“And tomorrow we need our captain Tripoli Poi to play as well as he did last weekend against Hicks Bay up there. His scrummaging, throwing into the line-out, tackling, leadership were excellent. The boys have to follow his lead.”

Poi will be backed up by another uncompromising force in vice-captain Perrin Manuel and loose forward Richard Green, both of whom are having an excellent season.

The referee for tomorrow’s game in Rangitukia is Chris Wanoa, with Troy Para as assistant referee 1.

Waiapu are coming off a 22-20 loss to Hicks Bay, while City had last weekend off and should be well-rested going into what is a make-or-break game for the home team.

City coach Regan Horsfall said his side were due to play some good rugby, having lost close games to Hikurangi and Tihirau Victory Club in the past three weeks.

“For us it’s about possession, field position, building pressure, going through phases,” Horsfall said.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for Waiapu. They’re a tough team, especially at home. In the past four years, we’ve only beaten them once in Rangitukia. We’re going to have to be at our best.”

Horsfall wants the City pack to achieve parity up front to negate the flair of Waiapu’s backline, whose talents — such as those of Slade Tiopira — he rates highly.

“It’ll be a tight game. I think they’ll hold on to the ball, then look to go through the middle. That’s why we’ve been working so hard on our ruck-defence, and turning over their ball . . . if we can.

“We must meet them on the gain-line, rather than let them come to us.”

While Horsfall expects the game to be tight early on, he also sees things opening up later on.

Like the Tripoli Poi-led Waiapu, City have an inspirational captain in outstanding loose forward Paddy Allen.

“Paddy’s been enormous for us,” Horsfall said.

“He’s got a huge engine. He’s an 80-minute man and he’s got people around him that galvanise the rest.”

Those senior players include vice-captain Tim Barbarich at lock and tighthead prop Pera Bishop, who will need to flex some serious muscle before halfback Neihana Ratahi and first five-eighth Graham Walker can get City out running.