Do-or-die time for Moutere as semifinals pressure rises

PETER JONES
Last updated 10:50 16/05/2014
Warrick de Waal
FAIRFAX
BIG INFLUENCE: Veteran lock Warrick de Waal adds size and experience to the Moutere pack for tomorrow’s premier rugby showdown with Harlequins at Lansdowne Park.

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With two derby matches being played in the Bayleys Tasman Trophy premier competition tomorrow, attention turns to the battle for semifinal spots in Marlborough.

The unbeaten Crafar Crouch Waitohi side lead the Marlborough standings with 28 points, closely followed by Biddy Kates Central on 25, and both sides are seemingly assured of places in the playoffs on July 12. Level on 17 points are BNZ Partners Harlequins and TvA Awatere, with Moutere six behind on 11 and Renwick out of contention with just a bonus point to show from their seven matches.

Moutere and Harlequins have a game in hand on the others, having played just six matches to their seven, and the pressure is firmly on the Magpies to start making their way up the table.

Those two sides meet tomorrow in the feature match at Lansdowne Park, both coming off disappointing results last weekend. Harlequins received a good old-fashioned hammering from Nelson, while Moutere, playing at home, were pipped in the dying minutes by Stoke, the bottom-placed Nelson Bays side.

As only points accrued in derby matches count towards the Marlborough competition, tomorrow's match is important for both sides. A win for the Magpies would get them back in semifinal contention while victory for the Quins would consolidate their position.

Moutere coach Laurin Gane says his players are aware of the importance of tomorrow's match.

"It's do or die for us this weekend," says Gane. "Otherwise we are going to be relying on other teams, if we don't perform. We had a good training on Tuesday, the whole intensity has changed this week. We've got to make a move and this is the weekend we need to do that.

"I think [the team] were disappointed about what happened on Saturday, they took a bit of personal responsibility for that, and that's good."

Back up front for the Magpies will be prop Zeb Muraahi and evergreen lock Warrick de Waal, a regular source of lineout ball for many seasons. Flanker Haven Walsh, a standout in the past two matches, is injured and unlikely to play with Makos hooker Francis Smith again set to wear the No 8 jersey. Regular halfback Johnny Ika is expected to start at fullback amid a largely unchanged backline.

"[Ika] brings a bit of excitement to the team, he's enthusiastic, and just needs to play a bit more rugby," said Gane.

The other Marlborough derby takes place at Endeavour Park, Picton where Waitohi will put their unbeaten record on the line against Central, with whom they drew 23-23 at Lansdowne Park in the first round.

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The Tohis have gone from strength to strength since, claiming the Hanan Shield for first-round honours, and bagging the first win for a Marlborough side over Nelson Bays opponents in the Tasman Trophy last weekend when they tipped over Marist. Life hasn't been so comfortable for the Blues, who conceded 80 points against Waimea Old Boys but bounced back on home soil last weekend to put 50 on Awatere.

How the Central eight fare against the Waitohi pack will likely decide the result of this one, the home side's pick-and-go tactics proving almost irresistible in recent weeks. The front row of Ross Geldenhuys, Chris Goodyear and James Hounslow were dominant against Marist and will quickly expose any weaknesses in the visiting pack.

A key man for the Blues will be Jake Cresswell - his five tries in the past two matches are testament to that - while elusive winger Willie Umu, who was expected back last week, should get on the paddock tomorrow after a long lay-off.

The only crossover Tasman Trophy match on Marlborough soil will be played at Seddon's Car Horn Valley, where the home side tackle competition leaders Wanderers. Blessed with enviable depth, pace, strength and experience in all the right places, Wanderers have earned their place atop the points table but, as Harlequins showed for 40 minutes, they can be rattled.

Kirk Nicholas Builders Renwick make the trip over the Whangamoas to face a Marist side smarting from last weekend's reversal in Picton. Anything less than a sizeable Marist victory would be a surprise.

Tasman Trophy draw: 3pm BNZ Partners Harlequins v Moutere Lansdowne Park 1 M Andrell; 3pm Crafar Crouch Waitohi v Biddy Kates Central Endeavour Park D Woodhouse; 3pm Wakatu Hotel Marist v Kirk Nicholas Builders Renwick Trafalgar Park; 3pm TvA Awatere v Taylors Wanderers Seddon Domain 1 K McKenzie.

- The Marlborough Express

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