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Rugby: Fight to stave off dreaded drop

By Peter White

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Steamers captain Willie Ripia's tactical skills and goalkicking will be key to beating Southland. Photo / File
Steamers captain Willie Ripia's tactical skills and goalkicking will be key to beating Southland. Photo / File

The Steamers must beat Southland tonight at Baypark or else move closer to the dreaded drop to the second tier ITM Championship next year.

With a rejuvenated Waikato and Ranfurly Shield-holders Counties Manukau still to come at home, the points on offer against the Stags are absolutely vital.

The Steamers should bolt in as the southern men do not have a great record up here and the home team has everything to play for.

Coach Kevin Schuler has named arguably his strongest side of the season with the return from a calf strain of inspirational flanker Tanerau Latimer. He replaces Beau Robinson who has yet to find his feet at ITM Cup level and has struggled with refereeing interpretations around the rucks.

Latimer is part of a powerful loose forward trio with Joe Tupe and No 8 Carl Axtens, who has shown he is a high-quality performer at this level.

Prop Albert Anae makes his last Steamers start for the foreseeable future after being named in the Wallabies squad to travel to South Africa.

Powerhouse halfback Samisoni Fisilau makes a welcome return from injury and his presence will be a major factor in tidying up the weak inside channel defence.

Flying fullback Steve Honey is also back from injury and his selection gives impressive former Auckland rep Dave Thomas a start on the right wing in place of Tino Nemani, who drops to the reserves.

Former Italian international Josh Sole will get his chance to impress from the bench along with promising young Te Puna halfback Te Aihe Toma.

The battle up front with the Stags is always rugged and combating their forwards will be a key to the Steamers winning the match. Senior lock Culum Retallick is desperate to make up for lost time after he was suspended for two weeks for a marginal incident against Hawke's Bay.

"It has been hard watching and not being able to contribute on the field," Retallick said. "This is my eighth year here and when I started we were rebuilding and then went through a phase when we were pretty competitive. Now we are getting new club players through and are rebuilding up for the next few years and unfortunately that takes time. It is just the nature of the beast some times.

"We have actually played all right in patches but we haven't been able to put it together. Against Wellington we created a lot of scoring opportunities but what we are doing at training we are not putting out on the field.

"That is frustrating so these next few games are key for us to stay in the top division so we need to find some form and get some points out of them. I think we have the team and the capabilities there and our defence in the second half against Wellington was bloody good."

Tonight's game kicks off at 7.35pm with the curtain raisers at 5.50pm and 6.30pm from the AIMS Games boys' Sevens pool play.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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