South Canterbury coach Chester Scott is expecting a real challenge in their top of the table Heartland clash with Buller tomorrow.
South Canterbury head to Westport in the unaccustomed position of being unbeaten.
They have the maximum 15 points, having collected a four try bonus point in their first three games.
Buller too have been in fine form just a point adrift and will no doubt want to make the most of home advantage.
Scott expects a tough game.
“Buller is quite similar to us, a good pack with real pace on the outside,” he said.
“They also have the best 10 in the competition with James Lash from Nelson, who we tried to get for several years.”
With rain forecast, he indicated a tighter game might be on the cards.
“If we get the opportunity to use the ball, we certainly will.”
Scott has only one injury worry but it is a big one with centre Paula Fifita bracketed with Tenari Saumani.
Fifita has been a class act so far this season and is also the team’s first-choice goal kicker, with 53 points, courtesy of three tries, 13 conversions and four penalties.
He has also played a part in South Canterbury’s expansive game that has seen in-form wings Maile I’Ongi and Erenimo Tau get plenty of ball.
Halfback Sekope Maea is back to full fitness and takes the starting spot off an inform Theo Davidson.
The only change in the forwards is Sam Vea is back in for Kali Latu, with the pair likely to share starts this season.
Scott has also opted for Tom Dwyer as his loan lock ahead of Cook Island international Simon Marcel.
Dwyer put in a solid performance in his first outing for the “green and blacks” against Wairarapa Bush last Saturday.
“Tom’s what we need really. He likes to hit the rucks and is real grafter,” Scott said.
He was not however getting excited about where the team sat.
“It is still early days in the competition but there are few interesting games this weekend that might sort some out,” he said.
“We have 15 points but I have looked back over the years and normally a team needs 28 to qualify for the Meads Cup (top four) semis so there is still plenty of work to do.”
Scott said the team focus was on on minimising errors.
“We can’t gift a side like Buller anything.”
It will also be a big day in Westport with Buller open side Luke Brownlee set to enter the New Zealand rugby records books with the most consecutive first class appearances, 138 matches.
Since the Heartland Championships began in 2006, Buller has recorded five wins over South Canterbury, who have won only one.
Two other key matches are North Otago hosting King Country while Wanganui also head south to take on Mid Canterbury.
Third placed Poverty Bay take on Wairarapa Bush in Masterton.
STU PIDDINGTON – The Timaru Herald