Red Devils hooker ready

JOHN ALEXANDER
Last updated 09:52 17/08/2012
Andrew Zuppicich
SCOTT HAMMOND
Full throttle: Marlborough Red Devils hooker Andrew Zuppicich is looking forward to tomorrow’s Seddon Shield clash with Nelson Bays.

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Andrew Zuppicich is a refreshing and rare throw-back to the past.

The Marlborough Red Devils hooker hails from the backblocks on his family's Conway Valley beef and sheep farm of 1000 hectares, which borders Marlborough and Canterbury.

If you're looking for commitment, no-one in Marlborough rugby does it better than the rugged Kaikoura hooker. Coming to training is a mission, a round trip of 350km, and he repeats that for Saturday's game with no complaints.

Rugby is not just something to do for the man they call "Zuppy". It's a passion and when he plays, there's only one gear, full speed ahead.

After playing in the Cecil Shield early season match against Nelson Bays, Zuppicich and his girlfriend travelled overseas and headed down the highway looking for adventure. They found it in the United States for 6 weeks, driving 12,000km from Las Vegas to Alaska.

When he returned home, there was a message on his answerphone from Marlborough rugby coach Steve Crockett - "we need you".

He answered that call and played a starring role against Buller last week, scoring a superb second-half try, as he stepped, crashed and weaved his way 35 metres to the tryline.

He enjoyed that moment. "I don't get many of them. I had people outside me but the gap was inside. I just kept running."

Zuppicich's pedigree is impressive. He played for the champion Christchurch Boys' High School First XV in the Press Cup alongside future All Blacks Dan Carter and Adam Thomson and in his final year at school, captained the team, playing mainly at hooker.

On leaving school he represented Lincoln University and High School Old Boys as well as age-group rugby for Canterbury, then for North Canterbury and Canterbury Country.

He switched to the Kaikoura club and in between played a season for Awatere when the Cray Coasters dropped to second division.

He may have slipped under the Makos' radar, but at 29 years of age he's approaching his prime as a front-rower and would love to play for Tasman.

"Always keen to play for Marlborough. Love playing for Marlborough and I'd love to play for the Makos."

He admitted living so far away made it more difficult to play rep rugby, plus the fact Kaikoura are in division two. He did not discount the possibility of moving back to Awatere if it helped his chances of higher honours.

As for tomorrow's Seddon Shield defence against Nelson Bays at Lansdowne Park, Zuppicich can't wait. "It's the pinnacle of what we've been training for. We've got a good side and by rights we should retain the shield. The history that's with that shield. A lot of people have played for it."

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Nelson Bays beat Marlborough in the early season Cecil Shield match 33-28. In the corresponding Seddon Shield match in Blenheim last year, Marlborough retained the trophy with a nail-biting 9-9 draw.

Don't expect the margin to be much different tomorrow.

Marlborough survived another close call against Buller last week but in winning 37-31, showed they won't let the coveted trophy go without a fierce scrap. Nelson Bays, coached by Kahu Marfell and Gary Stevens, have plenty of experience and talent in their squad, including several former Makos players.

Marlborough coach Steve Crockett and his assistant Peter Jones have named a team with one change from last week. Chris Murphy gets the nod for the starting berth on the right wing while Paulo Sa'u will again come in for Fetu Ieremia at tighthead prop. Ieremia also missed the Buller match through injury but Sa'u impressed in his Red Devils debut.

On the subs bench, veteran prop John Pale replaces Anaru Norton, while Nathan Oakley and Reuben Harvey are bracketed.

Meanwhile, the Tasman under-20 team, the names of whom were not available this morning, take on Mid-Canterbury at Takahanga Domain in Kaikoura at 1pm tomorrow. Marlborough Boys' College play off at noon against Roncalli College in Timaru for fifth and sixth place in the Press Cup.

THE TEAMS

Marlborough: Rawiri Tamati, Nick Pope, George Millar, Onolevu Temo, Chris Murphy, Daniel Hawkins, Daniel MacDonald, Stu Dalzell, Joe Stewart, James Pigou, Daniel Karena, Stu Campbell (cpt), Paulo Sa'u, Andrew Zuppicich, Kurt Lindsay. Subs: John Pale, Gareth Archer, Nathan Oakley or Reuben Harvey, Dan Crockett, Willie Alaiasa, Jake Cresswell, Benji Keenan

Nelson Bays: Tema Faifua, Brenton Connell, Kim Bateman, Sione Holani, Latham Jones, James Lash, Shaun Begg (cpt), Fetu Havili, Mitchell Thwaites, Niu Taufa, Ben Sadrugu, Jarrod Aberhart, Ropate Rinakama, Logan Balsom, Michael Tyler. Subs: James Hadfield, Christian Tupula, Sam Dempster, Shane Grieve, Loui Harvey, Kaide Whiting, Farrell Mulipola/Leon Guerin.

- The Marlborough Express

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