Rugby: Untried Valley side set for challenge

By Campbell Burnes

Waikato celebrate with the Ranfurly Shield following the round nine ITM Cup match between Hawke's Bay and Waikato on October 9, 2015 in Napier, New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images
Waikato celebrate with the Ranfurly Shield following the round nine ITM Cup match between Hawke's Bay and Waikato on October 9, 2015 in Napier, New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

Few, least of all the coach, know what to expect from an untried Thames Valley Swamp Foxes squad for today's "home" Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato in Paeroa.

Coach Hayden Roe has named a largely unknown 23, with just three starters returning from 2015: second-five Moss Doran, openside Shayne Johnson and captain and hooker Hayden Wisnewski. A handful off the bench have also appeared, while No 8 Brett Ranga, the 2016 player of origin, skippered the side in 2014.

"A few guys have retired, there's a few injuries and a few guys have moved on," says Roe. "We're pretty multi-cultural this year."

With potentially 15 debutants tomorrow, Roe is not well versed in the background of all his players.

"I know probably as much about the Waikato team as I know about my team," he quips.

That Waikato side looks a useful early-season selection, with Atu Moli thirsting for game time at tighthead after a shoulder injury curtailed his Chiefs work. Teen wing Sevu Reece, another Hamilton Boys' High product, was in the 2015 New Zealand Schools team. And Isaac Boss is back from his stint with Leinster. There could be as many as 11 Waikato debutants.

Today will be just the second time a Shield match has been played in Thames Valley and their 15th challenge overall. The last "home" challenge was a celebrated occasion in 1989, when an Auckland side with 11 All Blacks in the starting XV won 58-7 on Paeroa Domain.

Things got heated in the scrums, where the Silvester brothers faced down Olo Brown, Sean Fitzpatrick and Steve McDowall. Auckland ran in eight tries. However, the biggest cheer of the day went to Thames Valley wing Kevin Handley, who finished a spectacular team try.

The Thames Valley halfback that day, Mike Crawford, returns as Mooloos manager in 2016.

Ranfurly Shield

Thames Valley v Waikato

Paeroa Domain, 2.35pm today

- NZ Herald

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