ITM Cup: Vuicakau ends up on the wing thanks to a prayer

By Shane Hurndell

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Mikey Vuicakau signed a one-season contract with the Magpies this year.
Mikey Vuicakau signed a one-season contract with the Magpies this year.

Crikey, if only Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby coach Craig Philpott had known about Mikey Vuicakau's powerful contact earlier.

Powerful contact?

Winger Vuicakau revealed yesterday his Christian beliefs which involve prayers for the Magpies and himself before each game. The prayers obviously work as Vuicakau, the Fijian flyer, has yet to play in a losing Magpies team. All Blacks prop Ben Franks is the only other Magpie to be two and zero this season.

Vuicakau scored two tries during a memorable 31-29 pre-season win against Taranaki in Taupo in August and while he didn't get on the score sheet he played with similar enthusiasm and finesse in his only ITM Cup outing of the season, last week's 35-24 win against Wellington at Napier's McLean Park. When asked if his prayers will work when the Magpies take on the Otago Razorbacks in Sunday's Championship semifinal at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium, a busy day for the powerful bloke, Vuicakau, 26, replied "we will have to wait and see".

God hasn't been the only one giving Vuicakau the thumbs up in recent days. The 2011 Wairarapa Bush representative who arrived in the Bay last year with the aim of playing Sevens for Havelock North and Hawke's Bay pointed out his mother Mamaini and sister Ciri back in Fiji watched the win against Wellington live on television and afterwards sent congratulatory messages via Facebook.

The lightest member of the Magpies squad at 83kgs, Vuicakau, who lives with fiancee Courtney Hocking in Hastings, described the Wellington match as the "hardest and happiest" of his career to date.

Vuicakau signed a one-season contract with the Magpies this year and he knows he must reproduce his form from last week again on Sunday and in a possible final if he is going to have any chance of scoring a 2014 contract. Otherwise he will have to use his Hawke's Bay Sevens campaign to stake a claim.

He has no qualms about having to wait until round 10 to get a taste of Cup play.

"I knew if I kept being patient and worked hard at trainings my time would come."

Vuicakau will mark Buxton Popoali'i on Sunday. Both players are right foot steppers and are both capable of turning on plenty of razzle dazzle in perfect indoor stadium facilities. This duel has the potential to be worth the price of admission alone.

Philpott has been impressed with his troops' buildup this week. He has kept second five-eighth Andrew Horrell in cotton wool following his leg injury collected in last week's win against Wellington but he is confident Horrell will be ready to rock come Sunday.

Philpott has no doubt his Razorbacks counterpart Tony Brown would have monitored the Magpies' improvement during the past three weeks.

"Tony [Brown] will have come up with a couple of interesting plans both defensively and attacking-wise. It's important we go down there with our heads up and eyes open," Philpott said.

While Philpott won't release his team to the public until this afternoon, and it will be a surprise if there any changes to the 22 used against the Lions, Brown has named his. It includes three changes to the side which beat Auckland last weekend. Two are in the tight five, where the younger legs of Craig Millar and Tom Franklin return after being rested for the win over Auckland last Sunday.

Millar, who has had an impressive debut season, replaces Tama Tuirirangi at loosehead prop, while new Highlanders signing Franklin replaces Charlie O'Connell at lock.

The only change to the backline is an injury-enforced switch at fullback, where Peter Breen starts in place of Tony Ensor. The luckless Ensor has suffered a second major injury of the season. He missed six weeks after sustaining a dislocated shoulder in the Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato, and now has a knee problem.

The Razorbacks key impact loose forward TJ Ioane has a shoulder strain and is bracketed with Willis Scott on the bench.

As expected Hawke's Bay age group product Gareth Evans starts alongside fellow flanker Lee Allan and captain and No8 Paul Grant in the Razorbacks' loose forward trio.

If the Magpies' likely loose trio of captain Mike Coman, fellow flanker Brendon O'Connor and Karl Lowe can repeat their form produced in the Wellington victory the host trio will be in for a tough day at the office.

Hastings Boys' High School product Sam Anderson-Heather will again be the substitute hooker for the hosts.

The Otago team is:

Peter Breen, Buxton Popoali'i, Kieran Moffat, Jayden Spence, Matt Faddes, Hayden Parker, Fumiaki Tanaka, Paul Grant (captain), Lee Allan, Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin, Tom Donnelly, Scott Manson, Liam Coltman, Craig Millar. Substitutes: Forwards, Sam Anderson-Heather, Aki Seiuli, Charlie O'Connell, Ezra Taylor, TJ Ioane or Willis Scott; Backs, Josh Renton, Tei Walden.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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