Promoted flanker ready to make impact

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 14/09/2012
Jono Armstrong
Mark Taylor/Fairfax NZ
WAIKATO DEBUT: Jono Armstrong in action for Te Awamutu Sports.

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Jono Armstrong might not have much experience of rugby at first-class level but with more than 100 games for his Te Awamutu Sports club, the 24-year-old knows a thing or two about loose forward play.

Just how much will become evident when he gets his first start for Waikato at openside flanker in Wellington tomorrow.

Armstrong will be the latest to wear the red, yellow and black No 7 jersey after injuries to three others in the squad.

Zak Hohneck, who has started all the matches so far in this year's national provincial championship, is being rested with a bruised sternum, while Marty Holah (ankle) and Jack Lam (knee) are both still sidelined.

The promotion of Armstrong, who has had three appearances off the bench this season, is one of four changes to the Waikato starting XV from Tuesday night's 15-6 win over Bay of Plenty.

The others see Glen Robertson, 21, make his first start on the left wing, Tim Mikkelson return, this time on the right wing, and skipper Alex Bradley come back from his thumb sprain at No 8.

But the solidly built, 103kg Armstrong is determined to make the most of the opportunity that has come his way.

"This is something I've worked hard for over the last five years and to finally get it is special," Armstrong said.

"Luck has come my way [through injuries] and thrown a good opportunity to me so I've just got to make sure I take it and do what I can for the team.

"I haven't played at 7 a lot this year as far as club goes - I'm normally 6 or 8 - but Gibbo [coach Chris Gibbes] has trusted me as a 7 and I'm happy to play there."

Armstrong, whose 20-year-old younger brother, Fraser, is also in the squad for the first time this season as a 122kg prop, has been happy with the time he has got off the bench to date and what he has been able to do when he has got on the field.

"I've been stoked to be getting 20 minutes off the bench and the feedback I'm getting is that the impact has been good."

He will have a key role at Westpac Stadium tomorrow in getting to the breakdowns and cleaning out the opposition players accurately to enable Waikato to play the continuity game they are looking for.

But he will also look to defend strongly and try and steal some ball in the tackle. As captain of Te Awamutu Sports he is keen to contribute to the on-field leadership despite being a rookie in the squad.

"As a new face I probably don't talk a lot around the environment here but when I get on the field I'm happy to open up.

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"I played my 100th game for TA this year so I'm experienced at club level.

"It would be awesome to do that at this level but to do that I've got to play consistent rugby I would imagine - play hard and just try to keep impressing."

Gibbes said he was also looking for a big game out of the returning Bradley and it was important the loose forward trio connected and gelled.

The changes on the wings were about looking at what they needed this week and looking for work rate from the wingers and getting them to play around the fringes more.

Declan O'Donnell, who has started all four games to date on the right wing, is out with an ankle injury. Midfield back Jackson Willison will return from injury via the bench.

Waikato: Trent Renata, Tim Mikkelson, Save Tokula, Sam Christie, Glen Robertson, Piers Francis, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Alex Bradley (c), Jono Armstrong, Matt Vant Leven, Sam Kilgour, Chris Middleton, Ben May, Marcel Cummings-Toone, Toby Smith. Res: Vance Elliott, Ted Tauroa, Anthony Wise, Rory Grice, Brendon Leonard, Jackson Willison, Joe Webber.

- Waikato

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