Waikato players who broke team rules are dropped
Unnamed players dealt with in-houseEVAN PEGDEN
Waikato coaches John Walters and Carl Hoeft have come down hard on four players who breached team rules with changes to their starting XV to play in Canterbury in Christchurch tomorrow night.
Walters and Hoeft have made nine changes for the ITM Cup clash but say it's not because of an over-reaction to their loss of the Ranfurly Shield.
Four unnamed players have been punished for breaking team rules, while new skipper Matt Vant Leven has been sidelined for the season with surgery needed on a badly dislocated finger.
Flanker Jack Lam has also had to fly to Samoa to deal with a family issue and does not get back until some time today.
''There were some team rules broken on Friday night and we've dealt with it,'' Walters said. ''Four guys broke the rules and we've dealt with it in house.''
Walters refused to reveal the four players involved, saying he didn't want to ''throw the players under a bus'' by further punishing them by naming them publicly.
Zak Hohneck, who's recovered from a knee problem, takes over the openside flanker role from Lam with Walters saying it was a close contest between him and Jono Armstrong for the No 7 jersey.
New Zealand Under-20s No 8 Adam Burn, who impressed in the opening match against Northland, is back for his second start to replace Vant Leven.
Big Chiefs tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna not surprisingly comes into the starting line-up for Paul Alo-Emile after an impressive Waikato debut off the bench last week following his post-Super Rugby break.
The changes are more sweeping in the backline with halfback Kylem O'Donnell the only one to remain in the same position from the team that lost the shield to Otago last Friday night at Waikato Stadium.
Twenty-year-old first five-eighth Wharenui Hawera will start in the pivot position in place of Sam Christie, who drops out of the match 22 completely, and takes over the goal-kicking from Trent Renata who drops from fullback to the bench.
Jackson Willison takes the captaincy (prop Toby Smith is the new vice-captain) and moves from second-five to centre with Joe Perawiti to wear the No 12 jersey for the first time this season.
Save Tokula moves from centre to wing and New Zealand Under-20 representative Joe Webber from the wing to fullback, while Semisi Masirewa gets his first ITM Cup start on the right wing in place of New Zealand Sevens star Tim Mikkelson.
On the bench Nick Ross is in line for his first game for Waikato in place of previous reserve lock Chris Middleton, while Mikkelson and fullback Trent Renata join him among the reserves.
Walters said they had known about Vant Leven's finger injury for about three weeks but not when it would be possible for it to be operated on until now.
''At the end of the day we've got to put our players first and for him and the benefit of his rugby career he needs that finger operated on.''
Meanwhile the coach gave Hawera a big vote of confidence despite the Hamilton Marist 20-year-old's lack of experience.
''It looks like a big call for people that don't know him and haven't watched his growth over the last nine months but we have and he's a real confident footballer, he's got a great skillset, he brings a different kicking game just to complement what we're trying to do and I'm really confident in the way he can run a game and particularly our attack plan,'' he said.
Canterbury have got two players - Colin Slade and Luke Whitelock - back from the All Blacks camp.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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