Wairarapa Bush look to defend home fortress

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They’ve won all three of their home games conquering Ngāti Porou East Coast (32-31), Poverty Bay (30-24), and King Country (35-26). Road trips have been less successful with three consecutive defeats.

This Saturday, Wairarapa Bush hosts Whanganui in the penultimate round of the regular season. Sixth in the standings, a Meads Cup place (top-four finish) remains a possibility but a do-or-die attitude will have to prevail as the Butcher Boys are third.

Wairarapa Bush halfback Isacc Bracewell knows a thing or two about a late-season surge. Earlier this year he was part of the Oriental Rongotai (Ories) club that won Wellington’s Jubilee Cup by winning six elimination fixtures on the trot. Can Wairarapa Bush emulate Ories?

“For sure,” Bracewell enthusiastically responded.

“It’s been a funny season so far winning all the games at home and losing those away. We need to find that switch when we're on the road. We’ve been starting slowly and playing catch up. When this team clicks it feels good, and the culture is strong.

“We beat East Coast in the first round. Again, we made a slow start, but they’re a top-four side. Against King Country, we had some good impact from our bench in the second half.

“Excluding the North Otago game, we’ve been competitive away. The most annoying loss personally was against Horowhenua Kapiti. I threw an interception, and we lost by a try. It happened after 15 minutes and isn’t the entire reason we lost but little things like that are costly in a close competition.”

Clicking, clarity, and getting the little things right were significant themes in Ories' resurgence in Wellington club rugby. Following an embarrassing 56-26 defeat by Hutt Old Boys Marist on May 27, Ories regrouped with an honesty session led by captain and Wellington Lions hooker Penieli Poasa.

“We were ninth out of fourteen and agreed this wasn’t right, so we came together and discussed what needed to be changed on and off the field. I’m not saying we require that at Wairarapa Bush, but the openness of Ories was powerful.

“We lost another game after Hutt to OBU but when we beat Poneke, things started to click. It sounds funny but the later games were the easier ones to win. We’d been under pressure for a month and knew what we had to do when we had to do it.”

Bracewell was brilliant in the final won by Ories 34-21 over Paremata-Plimmerton in a chilly storm at the Hutt Rec. The Hammerheads had won 14 consecutive matches and beaten every club. Bracewell was unlucky not to be considered for Wellington Lions selection. He has made 13 Heartland appearances for Wairarapa Bush, including every game this season.

Bracewell’s goal is to play professionally and the 23-year-old is one of the fittest in the Heartland. He is a personal trainer in Wellington for Tamashii Fit run by renowned Wellington fitness and wrestling instructor Koji Shigeeda.  He’s also linked up with BFT which is a fitness centre like the globally popular F45 gyms.

The Bracewell name isn’t young in New Zealand sport. Relatives John and Doug Bracewell represented New Zealand in test cricket and Issac is one of half a dozen family members to have played senior rugby.

He is affectionately known as ‘crack’ by most of his friends.

“I was given my nickname in my first season of First XV rugby. It happened when I scored my first try in a traditional against Rathkeale College with the last play of the game. I did it with a snipe and the boys were like, ‘Yo Isaac snuck through the crack.’ Because it rhymes with my actual name, the name crack has stuck. There have been other interpretations behind its origin, but that’s the main reason."

Wairarapa Bush won the first Meads Cup in 2006 defeating Whanganui 16-14 in the final. They have been Lochore Cup winners in 2010.