Moutere pose critical test for Waitohi
After dealing with Nelson-based opponents over the past two weeks, Crafar Crouch Waitohi face a more familiar challenge at Awarua Park tomorrow.
The Bayleys Tasman Trophy front-runners will line up against traditional rivals Moutere in a premier rugby match vital for both sides.
Waitohi, boasting an unbeaten record thus far and five points clear, can't afford a slipup at this stage of the season, as they attempt to become the first Marlborough-based winners of the Tasman Trophy.
The Magpies are locked in a desperate battle with TvA Awatere and BNZ Partners Harlequins for the third and fourth playoff positions in the Marlborough-only competition.
Moutere kept their hopes alive with a gritty 39-34 win over Awatere in Seddon on Saturday, but will have their work cut out against the powerful Tohis combination.
The arrival of brothers Nili and Mone Moala from Auckland, at No 8 and first-five respectively, has provided a boost for the Magpies, particularly at the back of the scrum where they have been feeling the loss of Baxter Wilson, who was in outstanding early season form.
In Johnny Ika, Moutere have a matchwinner. Whether at halfback, fullback or on the wing, the diminutive Ika is quick, elusive and skilful, a handful for any defence.
An injury to former Red Devils utility Regan Marshall is being monitored but it is hoped he will take his place in the Magpies backline. But it is the home side's forward pack who must front against a Waitohi unit that hasn't been bettered this season.
Young props Lockie McCormick and Zeb Muraahi are improving match by match but they, along with experienced hooker Francis Smith, will be fully tested at scrum time.
If the Moutere pack are unable to provide a stable platform, Waitohi have the players to take full advantage.
Hooker Chris Goodyer has been in superb form over the past fortnight, forming a pivotal front row partnership with tighthead Ross Geldenhuys and loosehead James Hounslow.
Blockbusting No 8 Manu Mataele gets a rest this week, Jack Evans a handy replacement.
Waitohi's back unit, a group of players you underestimate at your peril, are expected to be at full strength.
Two of their standouts, Sanualio Sakalia and Jayden Waters, both played well for Marlborough on Monday and are expected to be back tomorrow to guide their side around Awarua Park.
The other Marlborough derby is between Harlequins and Kirk Nicholas Builders Renwick.
While their respective positions on the points table indicates a non-contest, history between these sides suggests otherwise.
The Green Machine has spluttered this season, injuries to key players not helping their cause. They have yet to register a win in any competition but have often troubled the Quins and, if they can stay in touch, could do so again.
Coming off an 83-7 win over Stoke last week, Harlequins are in hot form. Their backs, led by last week's hat-trick heroes Brandyn Laursen, Conor Hirini and Chris Tau'alupe, certainly know how to find the tryline, but will strike stiffer resistance tomorrow.
A bonus point win to the Quins would see them well placed to cement the third semifinal position, while, for Renwick, time is running out for that elusive first victory.
Two Marlborough sides travel over the hill. Central Biddy Kates taking on Wanderers at Brightwater and Awatere up against Kahurangi in Riwaka.
The Blues, tied for third on the Tasman Trophy table, have a chance to make a statement against Nelson opposition.
They conceded 80 points against Waimea in the second round, then narrowly beat Marist in round five. Victory over Wanderers, the highest-placed Nelson side, would set Central up for a strong finish to the season.
Awatere are playing for pride in the Tasman Trophy and will be keen to lift their spirits after last Saturday's setback at home. The loss of fullback Maleli Bula with a broken fibula is a huge blow for the Tussocks, but there is plenty of spirit in this side and a strong showing is expected in Riwaka.
AT A GLANCE
Tomorrow's Bayleys Tasman Trophy premier rugby draw: Moutere v Crafar Crouch Waitohi at Awarua Park; BNZ Partners Harlequins v Kirk Nicholas Builders Renwick at Lansdowne Park 1; Taylors Wanderers v Biddy Kates Central at Brightwater 1; Kahurangi v TvA Awatere at Riwaka; Nelson v Marist at Trafalgar Park; Stoke v Waimea OB at Greenmeadows, Stoke. Wadsco division two: 1:15pm: Moutere v Whale Watch Kaikoura Awarua Park 1 V Warburton.
The Marlborough Express