Linton Army to decide on senior A future after final pre-season match

Leni Tonga is one of just seven Linton Army players returning from last year.
Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ.

Leni Tonga is one of just seven Linton Army players returning from last year.

The fate of the Linton Army senior A rugby team will be decided after their final preseason match this Saturday with withdrawal from the Manawatu club season a possibility.

The club has been hit hard by a mixture of players being deployed overseas, players retiring and a handful turning their backs on the army club for other teams.

But their biggest issue is front-row forwards.

Co-coach Ross Rainham, who is leading the team with Dwayne Eriksson while head coach Ben James is stationed overseas, said they were confident in their ability to cover every other position, but front row depth was a serious concern.

"We are going to play Upper Hutt this weekend and I will talk to Dwayne then and that will be the decision if A, we can front a team and B, if we have got enough front rowers," he said.

Four of the club's top props are unavailable this year, including former Turbo Hakarangi Tichborne.

That means they have just Nick Fakahau as an experienced senior A prop.

"We are working hard on the Bs and a couple of colts guys but we really don't know if they are up to scratch yet. We will play the game this weekend and see where we are at," Rainham said.

Three props will take part in the Upper Hutt match including Fakahau, Hunter Anderson, who is making the jump from Bs, and a colts hooker who is trialling a transition to prop.

Rainham said they needed to be convinced they had enough depth at the position to survive the season.

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He said they have spread the net far and wide to bring new props into the club, but had no luck.

Prop is not the only position they have been hit hard by losses since last year.

The team had high turnover within the 2016 season with injuries and army commitments wreaking havoc on their playing stocks.

But this year things have been bad from the preseason.

"We have got seven guys back this year from last year's side and we used 59 players last year," Rainham said.

Included in the group no longer there are a handful of soldiers who have opted to play for other clubs.

There is a chance those men would be forced back to the club, but none were front rowers, which did not help its current predicament.

"Apparently within the army system there is an order to get those guys back, but that has not been actioned yet so we don't know if they will get pulled back, but that is only two or three," Rainham said.

Rainham was confident that if all their top players were available, they would be able to field a competitive team.

He said if they were to pull out of the senior A season this year, the aim would be to return to the top level of Manawatu club rugby in 2018.

Among the players missing this year is likely to be former Turbos midfielder Jaxon Tagavaitau, who will return from overseas before the first game of the season but suggested he wanted to take a year off from the sport.

On a positive note, former Turbos outside back Hamiora Thomas is expected to be back from the shoulder injury which restricted his play last year. 

If Linton opts against fielding a senior A team in 2017, top players would likely be released to play for other clubs.

 - Stuff

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