There are three talking points in the Wairarapa-Bush starting line-up for their Heartland championship rugby opener against South Canterbury at Memorial Park, Masterton, on Saturday.
While none of them could actually be labelled surprise selections the decisions to start with Tom Fleming at lock, Byron Karaitiana at first-five and Titapu Pairama-Lewington at second-five will raise a few eyebrows.
Not so much because the players concerned don't have the form on the board but because they have been chosen ahead of others who might have been expected to get the nod.
Fleming and Pairama-Lewington both played their club rugby for Old Boys University in the Wellington competition and made solid debuts for Wairarapa-Bush in the 51-17 win over Horowhenua-Kapiti last weekend.
The versatile Fleming was a useful ball winner in the lineouts and mobile enough in general play to suggest that talk of him becoming a contender for a loose forward role as the season progresses might not be too far off the mark. Pressing him hard for a starting position in the middle row must have been Lachie McFadzean, who has been going great guns all season at club and representative level.
Pairama-Lewington had a relatively quiet first half in the midfield but got more into the swing of things in the second, showing good strength on the burst and the ability to create space for his outsides. His selection means Michael Te Whare drops into the reserves after a series of noteworthy performances in lead-up games.
Expectations were that another of the Wellington "imports", Glen Walters, would start at first-five against South Canterbury after looking sharp and decisive in recent outings but he has been chosen at fullback instead, meaning Karaitiana will wear the No10 jersey.
With Walters at fullback the battle for the wing spots became a three-way go between regular custodian Nick Olson, Cameron Hayton and Nathan Hunt and the fact Hunt was unable to attend Tuesday's training session was probably pivotal to him being included in the reserves.
Up front, consideration would have been given prop Jon Fuimaono and hooker Jamie Hunt for a starting spot after solid showings against Horowhenua-Kapiti but, at the same time, few could argue with skipper Kurt Simmonds, Richard Puddy and Wilbur Davies initially taking the field in the front row. They, too, have been playing impressively.
Early TAB odds for the likely Meads Cup winner in the 2012 Heartland championship have Wanganui and East Coast as joint favourites.
They are both on $3, followed by North Otago $5, Mid-Canterbury $9, South Canterbury, Wairarapa-Bush and Poverty Bay all $15, Thames Valley $20, King Country, Buller and West Coast all $30 and Horowhenua-Kapiti $50.
Wairarapa-Bush team: Glen Walters; Nick Olson, Jesse McGilvary, Titapi Pairama-Lewington, Cameron Hayton; Byron Karaitiana; Matt O'Connor; Jim Temoci; James Goodger, Andrew McLean, Tom Fleming, Johan Van Vliet; Kurt Simmonds, Richard Puddy, Wilbur Davies. Reserves: Inia Katia, Michael Te Whare, Nathan Hunt, Johnie McFadzean, Lachie McFadzean, Jamie Hunt.