Veteran halfback Isaac Boss to captain Waikato in opening game of NPC
Veteran halfback Isaac Boss will be just that - the boss - after being handed the captaincy for Waikato's opening game of the NPC season against Tasman in Blenheim on Sunday.
Stephen Donald was announced as the Mooloos' skipper at their season launch this week, but is still a couple of weeks away as he recovers from a lat injury suffered in the Chiefs' Super Rugby quarterfinal against the Stormers almost four weeks ago. So it's Boss who will live up to his name when Waikato take to Lansdowne Park, after coach Sean Botherway handed the returning Ireland international the reins.
At 36, Boss is literally twice the age of some of the players going round in the competition, having last played for Waikato way back in 2005. He has had a couple of hitouts in pre-season Ranfurly Shield defences against Heartland sides, as he slots back into the New Zealand game after his stints with Ulster then Leinster, and 22 test caps.
When he glances to his outside and sees the electric Damian McKenzie - 15 years his junior - it won't make Boss feel any younger.
"Maybe we should add their ages together and take the median," quipped Botherway, who was delighted to have Boss' 54 Waikato caps (five behind Donald) to call on.
"We talked enough last year about that layer of experience that we need so with those guys around they're the right guys to be able to provide that sort of direction on and off the field.
"He's a hell of a great team man, and he's been constant now for a couple of months. He has good relationships with the boys, and knows what we're trying to achieve, and seems genuinely excited by the opportunity, as he should be.
"The one thing that hasn't changed is that he's still full of energy and excitement, and loves playing for Waikato. If he can rub that off on the lads, which he has, then that's the main thing."
The only players not considered for this opening round were Hurricanes prop Loni Uhila, who was given the week off, and loose forward Adam Burn, who should be alright for round two as he recovers from an MCL knee injury suffered in the club final.
After several players wore the red, yellow and black in the pre-season, there is just one debutant for the province this weekend, with Willis Halaholo an exciting addition to the midfield. The 26-year-old made such an impact for the title-winning Hurricanes and will start at second-five, having shifted here from Southland before he heads to Cardiff at the end of the season.
But it's still a very new-looking Waikato side to the one from their last competitive outing - that Shield win over Hawke's Bay at the end of last year. Just 10 players from this 23 featured in that game. But Botherway said the focus hasn't been on who has gone, and rather who they have, as the Shield holders look to get up for not just their defences, but these road matches too.
"We feel like we've put some good foundations in place," Botherway said.
"So we're really excited by what this group can hopefully do. Very respectful, obviously, of an experienced Tasman side at home, at the same time. But we'll get down there and get excited and rip into it."
AT A GLANCE
NPC, Rd 1
Tasman v Waikato
Lansdowne Park, Blenheim
TASMAN: David Havili, Tima Faingaanuku, Kieron Fonotia, Alex Nankivell, James Lowe, Mitchell Hunt, Finlay Christie, Vernon Fredericks, Shane Christie (c), Pete Samu, Quinten Strange, Alex Ainley, Blair Prinsep, Andrew Makalio, Tim Perry. Reserves: Jesse MacDonald, Tom Hill, Ross Geldenhuys, Jeff Lepa, Shannon Frizell, Billy Guyton, Tim O'Malley, Jesse Pitman.
WAIKATO: Shaun Stevenson, Penikolo Latu, Nathaniel Apa, Willis Halaholo, Jordan Trainor, Damian McKenzie, Isaac Boss (c), Whetu Douglas, Murray Iti, James Tucker, Brian Alainu'uese, Jacob Skeen, Atu Moli, Hame Faiva, Latu Talakai. Reserves: Steven Misa, Tau Koloamatangi, Sefo Kautai, Jordan Manihera, Mitch Jacobson, Harrison Levien, Sam Christie, Tevita Taufui.
Referee: Kane McBride