Tuapati’s recovery a relief for Southland Stags
Talemaitoga Tuapati has proved his fitness and will start at hooker today against Otago in Invercargill.
Southland faced a hooking dilemma when Tuapati joined David Hall and Jason Rutledge on the injury list.
Hall and Rutledge had been ruled out for the entire season before Tuapati went down injured against North Harbour and was forced from the field at halftime.
With Tuapati in doubt for this Saturday's game Southland sent out an SOS to the former All Black hooker Andrew Hore to join the team as a potential replacement.
The Fijian international has however recovered to take his place in the team today, while youngster Dillan Halaholo remains the backup hooker on the bench.
Stags coach Brad Mooar was pleased Tuapati had recovered in time to start again.
''He has rehabed well and Macca [physio Karl McDonald] and Doc [team doctor Peter Finlayson] have done a great job with him,'' Mooar said.
''He's stoked and fired up ready to go, he's worked really hard.''
While Mooar has not had to call on Hore for today's game after all, he said it was great to have the 83-test All Black training with the team this week.
''He came down Monday night, trained Tuesday, and he was magnificent with the guys. He did a couple of training runs and there is a lot of wisdom there isn't there, a lot of experience - he was excellent.
"It's good to establish a relationship with Andrew and the Stags.''
John Hardie will make his return today to start on the blindside flank with Bill Fukofuka dropping to the bench.
Hardie's presence was a big boost, Mooar said, but it also was a good opportunity to give 19-year-old Fukofuka a breather after he carried a big workload in the first two games.
The other change to the starting 15 comes on the wing where Jamie Verran gets a start and Lolohea Loco drops to the bench.
Mooar said the Stags had this week embraced the occasion of a Southland-Otago derby rather than getting too worked up.
''You can't ignore it, there is sibling rivalry isn't there. We have definitely talked about that and about what it means in terms of representing Southland against Otago, I think we have had a good week.''
Southland will shooting for three wins in a row in as many weeks today which would be a dream start for Mooar in his first season at the helm of the Stags.
He admits the first fortnight of the competition had been very encouraging.
''It's been a lovely start, we've honestly just taken each game at a time and just looked at what is coming and set a goal for each game.
"Two from two has been a lovely start but we know that can change really quickly so we need to make sure we keep preparing well.''
Southland: Junior Ngaluafe, Mark Jackman, Cardiff Vaega, Willis Halaholo, Jamie Verran, Lima Sopoaga, Scott Eade, Elliot Dixon, Tim Boys, John Hardie, Michael Fatialofa, Josh Bekhuis, JP Koen, Talemaitoga Tuapati, Jamie Mackintosh (c). Reserves; Dillan Halaholo, Tony Keresoma, Michael Stewart, Bill Fukofuka, Tayler Adams, Lolohea Loco, Bryan Milne.
Otago: Trent Renata, Jayden Spence, Michael Collins, Tei Walden, Fa'asiu Fuatai, Hayden Parker, Josh Renton, Charlie O'Connell (c), James Lentjes, TJ Ioane, Tom Franklin, Joe Latta, Donald Brighouse, Liam Coltman, Aki Seiuli. Reserves: Sam Anderson-Heather, Hisa Sasagi, Jackson Hemopo, Naulia Dawai, Nick Ealey, Peter Breen, Tony Ensor.
Referee: Grant Stuart
Assistant referees: Kirk Rae, Aaron Watt
TMO: Peter Wilkinson
The Southland Times