When losing is winning

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Another Arrowtown loss not end of world.

While the beleaguered Arrowtown rugby side may be desperate to beat Manio­toto on the road this Satur­­day, a loss could make it easier for them to retain the White Horse Cup.

A shock 42-7 defeat to Wakatipu in Queenstown last Saturday has top-of-the-table Arrowtown just five points above their neighbour going into Saturday’s final round of regular-season games.

So if Arrowtown leave Ranfurly empty-handed this weekend and Wakatipu score at least four tries – for a bonus point – when beating Alexandra at home, the two local sides would finish equal-first but Wakatipu would win on points differential.

Assuming both local teams then win their home semis, the competition final would be in Queenstown – and there’s the blessing.

An away final for Arrowtown would mean the White Horse Cup wouldn’t be at stake – and Arrowtown would get their name on the trophy for the very first time.

Ironically, the precious cup might be to blame for Arrowtown dropping their bundle against Wakatipu last weekend. After defending the cup against Cromwell the week before, players who drank from the replica trophy came down with flu.

Training sessions were hit, only six players turning up for one and 10 for another. On match day many players were “just coughing and spluttering everywhere, it was horrendous,” says team physio Sonya Anderson.

Coach Blair Wilce says losing a few key players didn’t help “but the way Wakatipu played, it probably would have been hard to beat them anyway”.

After 10 unbeaten games, Arrowtown have now lost away to Upper Clutha and Wakatipu, two games Wilce thought might have been easier than Maniototo.

But losing this weekend isn’t part of his season’s plan: “Our main goal is to win on Saturday, get a home semi and hopefully a home final – our home support is as good as anyone else, if not better.

“We don’t want to go into the semi-final losing three of our last four games.”

Another motivation is that long-time halfback Simon Williams plays his last game before moving to Dubai.

Wilce: “I’m sure we’ll pull through – it will be a good test of character to see how much these guys really want to win.”

Talent spotter eyes his man

Southland Stags co-coach David Henderson turned up at the Rec Ground last Saturday to watch one Wakatipu player with a view to recruiting him.

Henderson has been tracking No 8 Ben Blakely, a former Aussie schoolboys rep. “He’s a guy that’s got potential, he does all the basics right, he’s got a bit of speed, the ability to off-load.

“He’s a player that would need to get into a regular training regime to get to his full potential, I suggest.

“I would have no idea where he was at with regards to weight-training and conditioning away from rugby, so you’ve got all those factors to consider.”

Last month 22-year-old Blakely was the only Central player to get an Otago trial. He failed to make the squad.

Henderson says if he tries to recruit Blakely for Southland he’ll “work pretty closely” with the Otago union.

He was “pleasantly surprised with the skill level and the execution of the [Wakatipu] players – a credit to the coaches”.

“Some of those tries in the second half, they were structured from phase after phase, and the boys knew exactly what they were doing.”

Second-five Tom Kelly, who played Southland club rugby, also caught Henderson’s eye: “His linking skills have improved immensely.

“And I thought [first-five] Regan Pearce was having quite a good game till he went off.”

It was tough for Arrowtown’s flu-ridden team, Henderson says, “but they’ll bounce back – sometimes it’s good to have a bit of a hiding before you go into finals”.

Injured Otago All Black Adam Thomson caught the tail-end of the game.

“Wakatipu looked like they wanted it more.

“They took advantage of Arrowtown being flat with sickness and used their superior strike power in the backs and finished well.”