Reserve doesn't see time on pine as fruitless endeavour.

Matt Berquist can picture himself picking apples with fellow Magpie Jason Shoemark for a job during May next year.

If that temporary switch from the professional rugby ranks eventuates, it will reflect his failure to secure sufficient game time with the Magpies this season to nail a Super Rugby contract. But Berquist, who will play his 50th first class game for the Magpies should he get time off the pine in tonight's ITM Cup Championship semifinal against Northland at Napier's McLean Park, isn't complaining.

Far from it, in fact.

"That's rugby and how this season has panned out. If I don't score any surveying work, I'll be happy to pick apples. The physical aspect of the work will help my rugby," Berquist, a qualified surveyor, said.

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"For fair enough reasons I haven't got as much game time as I would have liked and I've had a different role to play. But this season's team has been reasonably successful and a good bunch of guys. It's been a good buzz to be involved with," Berquist said.

A former New Zealand Maori rep and Highlanders and Crusaders Super player, Berquist knows he has to make the most of whatever game time he gets tonight to stake a claim for another Magpies contract next year. With fellow pivot Ihaia West likely to be recovering from his Blues commitments during July, Berquist could be in demand as the starting 10 in the Magpies first two Ranfurly Shield defences of the year against Heartland Championship opponents.

Apart from during the loss to Manawatu, when few of the Magpies would have been happy with their individual contributions, Berquist, 31, has been impressive with his goalkicking and general play during his stints off the bench this season.

"I'm not much of an impact player and it's been a little bit tricky dealing with 10-minute stints in the 10 role, but that's the way it's been," Berquist explained.

The Napier Boys' High School product, who first played for the Magpies in 2006, has plenty of respect for the Northland Taniwha outfit.

"They're quite a decent side. They were quite nuggety when they beat us up there in the wet," Berquist said, referring to the Magpies' 23-21 September 5 loss to Northland.

"If you give them an inch, they will take it. They are a good enough side to tip us up if we are slightly off our game," Berquist said.

"We've shown glimpses of what we're capable of but we have yet to put an 80-minute performance together. With the exception of our win against Counties-Manukau, we've been quite average away from home. However, we're unbeaten at home and it would be good to maintain that run and book a final berth," he added.

Magpies head coach Craig Philpott was happy to report captain Brendon O'Connor had shaken off his hamstring injury and will start at No8, while fullback Richard Buckman has also been given the green light after being nagged by an ankle injury earlier this week.

"There's a real positive desire within the team. It could have been easy to detect a drop in intensity with the Ranfurly Shield locked away for the summer this week. But it's been an exact opposite ... the boys are very keen to go out there and get another win," Philpott said.

He has retained the same starting XV used last weekend. The only change to his subs bench sees winger Mikey Vuicakau replace flanker Tom Stanley, as he reverts back to the regulation four forwards, three backs split rather than a five-two.

Providing the Magpies sharpen up their start, reduce their missed tackle count (last week's 14 was too many) and keep disciplined, they should secure a final. Nothing but a victory would be appropriate for Berquist's milestone.

For the record, Berquist has scored 423 points in his 49 first class games for the Magpies to date. They have come from 72 conversions, 89 penalty goals and four dropped goals.

Teams

*Hawke's Bay Magpies:

Richard Buckman, Ryan Tongia, Robbie Fruean, Jason Shoemark, Shannan Chase, Ihaia West, Chris Eaton, Brendon O'Connor (captain), Tony Lamborn, Trent Boswell-Wakefield, Mark Abbott, Michael Allardice, Jason Marshall, Ash Dixon (vice-captain), Brendon Edmonds.

Substitutes, forwards: Ged Robinson, Adrian Barone, Tom Parsons, Mark Atkins. Backs: Ellery Wilson, Mikey Vuicakau, Matt Berquist.

*Northland Taniwha: Matthew Wright, Latiume Fosita, Winston Stanley, Troy Gilbert, Jone Macilai, Dan Hawkins, Sonatane Takulua, Dan Pryor (captain), Kara Pryor, Jack Ram, Tom Murday, Shane Neville, Namatahi Waa, Matthew Moulds, Ross Wright.

Substitutes, forwards: Howard Silioto, WillGriff John, Michael Stolberg, Jaycob Matiu. Backs: Kurt Davies, Warren Dunn, Whiria Meltzer.