When the two specialist first-fives in Sean Carter’s Mid Canterbury rugby squad went down injured on Saturday, he had no choice but to send out an SOS.
Just three days out from today’s annual clash with Ellesmere at the Ashburton showgrounds, the injuries to Celtic’s Nathan McCloy and Rakaia’s Tom Hanham-Carter were a big blow, but fortunately a familiar face answered that SOS – Jarred Percival.
The man known to many as JP, the Christchurch-based player was no stranger to Mid Canterbury, having been a pivotal part of a couple of Mid Canterbury Heartland campaigns now as an import.
For Carter it was a call that had to be made, despite having been determined to run with a 100 per cent local line-up for the Ellesmere game.
McCloy and Hanham-Carter had joined Methven’s Jason Kjestrup and Davey Maw on the injured list and the next two first-fives on Carter’s radar had made themselves unavailable.
So today, when Mid Canterbury ran out on to the field, Percival would join them, although having not trained with the side, he wouldn’t be at first-five.
Rakaia’s Andrew Letham will be wearing the 10 jersey.
“JP is going to come down for us and he will start at fullback and rotate with Andrew while he picks up what’s taking place and that, and knowing JP that won’t take long,” Carter said.
Letham would slot in to first-five no problem, he said.
“He’s an old hand and he’s just a good solid leader.”
Letham’s Rakaia team-mate Jackson Donlan was named the side’s captain, while Tyler Blackburn would step up to the vice-captain role.
The squad for today’s game featured a number of new faces and Carter hoped they’d make the most of the opportunity they’d been given.
“They all seem really excited about it.
“There are some guys in there that haven’t had the opportunity in the past, and they may not get the opportunity again in the future,” he said.
A number of players had made themselves unavailable for selection for the Ellesmere game, and there were some who hadn’t been considered due to injury or form.
But Carter said the door wasn’t closed to anyone with the final squad for the 2018 Heartland Championship – which starts on August 25 – not set to be named until after the Watters Cup final.
Carter said there were a number of players with rep experience out for today’s clash, who wanted to be there come Heartland time, but he hoped some of the young new faces would put their hands up and make it a real fight for places.
Mid Canterbury had beaten Ellesmere for the past five years running, and Carter was eager to start his tenure as coach by making it six on the trot.
“It’s one of those ones you definitely go out to win it, but we also use it as an opportunity see what our players can produce at this level,” Carter said.
Mid Canterbury would enter this year’s Heartland Championship looking to hit the ground running and make the top four Meads Cup playoffs.
Last year they missed out and had to play off for the Lochore Cup, which they went on to win.
Carter said the Heartland Championship was harder and faster than what today’s game would be, so today would be a good gauge for him to see how players handled the step up from club.
Today’s action at the Ashburton A&P Showgrounds will get under way at 1.15pm with the Mid Canterbury and Ellesmere Colts playing, with the main game to kick off at 3pm.
The Mid Canterbury squad for today’s clash is:
Tom Heywood, Jackson Donlan (C), Henry Millar, Tom Blyth, Matt Bentley, Angus Lindsay, Logan Flett, Eric Duff, Tyler Blackburn (VC), Andrew Letham, Oscar Baisgale, Kipi Manu’mua, Isireli Masiwini, Paovale Sofai, Jarred Percival.
Reserves: Leauma Tu Aga, Penisimani Fakatoka, Hamish Finnie, Ata Langilangi, Shepperd Mhembere, Finn Cleary, Brian Matormusha, Jey Aiolupotea.
The Ellesmere squad for today’s clash is:
Graeme Greenslade, Steve Lees-Godwin (VC), Jim Cummings, Tom Brand, Isileli Fine, Joe Robins, Sam Hesselwood, Daryl Lamborn, Harry Kirk (VC), Matt Saunders, Cameron Sheat, Tim Murgatroyd (C), Shaun Harrington, Kieran Meikle, Alex Parker.
Reserves: Sam Cottam, Hamish Pauling, Patrick Clegg, Josh Baird, Jale Masi, Cameron Powell, Matt Hickey, Mike Sheenan.