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Iona Apineru Hard to Knock Down

Petone started the Swindale Shield season last Saturday with a 19-10 win over reigning first round champions Old Boys University. It was just their second win in a dozen outings against the Billygoats since 2012.

“We are a new team and our coach Pipes [Ryan Piper] said to go out and express ourselves. We were feeling pretty confident going into it against OBU who had some new faces in their line-up and we got the result we wanted first-up,” Petone’s Iona Apineru explained in conversation with the Huddy Hui on Wednesday night (watch the full episode below).

Apineru is not a new face for Petone but was stepping out in a new position for the first time in a competitive match, following 21 previous appearances since 2020 at lock and loose forward for Petone and two for the Wellington Lions at loose forward in 2021.

In the off-season, Apineru made the move to tighthead prop.

Quizzed on the change of position, Apineru said the move had been in the works for a while.

“I had been thinking about it for the last year or so – and probably even back further if truth be told given all the people who joked about me making a good front rower!

“It was just building up over the last year and I was really starting to think about it, and just the way I play the game and the way my game goes I just felt like that’s where my skills could be potentially better used.”

Apineru said the move has been good so far, with the support of others around him.

“I have been lucky enough to have a lot of people around to support me. At Petone we have guys like Pek Cowan [former Wallaby prop], Eugene Smith [200-game Petone hooker and Wellington U20 coach] and our Premier forwards coach and experienced front rower Fridge Masina.”

Iona Apineru playing for Petone last weekend against OBU.

Apineru is a former St Pat’s Silverstream head boy and First XV captain. In 2018 he led his side to 16 wins in 18 games and scored a try in the Premier I final win against St Pats Town. He has experience making decisions.

“All-round everyone is happy – they see the vision I have for myself. Now that we have gone through pre-season, and I have done the training I am comfortable there. It has been tough, but I am happy with my decision.”

What is the toughest part?

“That’s easy, the scrummaging,” he responded. “It is tough to scrum and to get around the field as well.”

“All the crap I have said about the front rowers since I started playing, I definitely take it back!

Has the move meant a change in his training?

“I have been a bit more strength focused, but not really as I still want to play the same way. I still want to be like a loose forward on the field, in general play at least. Where much of my focus has gone is to all the technical stuff, but I feel like I am slowly chipping away at it all.”

Apineru might be new to the front row, but he has older brothers who have spent a fair bit of time in the front row positions.

Nev Apineru has played a number of Premier games for the Upper Hutt Rams, while Anaru Rangi is a former Melbourne Rebel and Wallaby and is currently playing in Japan.

“Well, Nev was all over the place, shifting between prop, lock and loose forward, so he was a jack of all trades and never got to master any of them!

“Unfortunately, Anaru has been overseas in Japan, but when he returns, I very much look forward to soaking up some of his knowledge and experience.”

Apineru isn’t the only high-performance Petone player to make a positional switch this season, the other being his former St Pat’s Silverstream teammate Josh Southall who has shifted from openside flanker to hooker.

Southall missed Petone’s opening win over OBU because of Covid but is expected to make his Swindale Shield front row debut soon.

Both Apineru and Southall (New Zealand Schools’ selections in 2017 and 2018 respectively)  have spent a fair amount of time off the field in recent years. In Apineru’s case these stints have predominantly been because of concussions.

Leading from the front and scoring a try playing blindside flanker against Wellington College in 2018.

“I have just had bad luck there, in 2019 I had some concussions all within a small timeframe. So that was a tough start to my senior career, and it is only now that I am starting to have a run without any knocks.

Getting into better positions and improving technique are key to avoiding future knocks.

Petone started last season positively and then injuries affected the whole team’s campaign. It’s been 17 years since the fabled club won the Jubilee Cup.

Apineru said the Villagers have the talent and they carry the dream of winning the title but for now are focusing on hitting their straps throughout the early rounds and then taking it from there. Petone last won the Swindale Shield in 2009.

This Saturday Petone hosts the Upper Hutt Rams for the Ted Donnelly Cup. Whilst Petone started with a win over OBU, the Rams went down to Oriental-Rongotai 29-20.

“I have got a lot of mates in that team and it is always fun playing against those guys and a good challenge to get up for.

“They are a bunch of battlers who go out there and play hard, no matter what the result is. So they are going to be a hard challenge and we are expecting a real dogfight against them.”

Petone beat Upper Hutt 27-18 in Round 8 of the Swindale Shield last year. Mason Henry scored two tries and Carne Green kicked a dozen points.

Kick-off at the Petone Rec is at the earlier time of 2.00pm.

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