NZ Rugby Grandstand–Fantastic Finals Footy

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Mitre 10 Heartland Championship Lochore Cup Final - King Country v North Otago
TE KUITI, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 29: Maene Mapusaga of North Otago kisses the Lochore Cup after winning the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship Lochore Cup Final match between King Country and North Otago at Rugby Park on October 29, 2016 in Te Kuiti, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It has been 12 full-on weeks of competition, and over the last two days there have been some fantastic finals footy played in New Zealand. In both Mitre 10 Cup and the Heartland Championship, teams were crowned for each division of the National Provincial Championship.

Last Word On Rugby have closely followed the progress of all sides, and were extremely pleased with the quality of each of the four finals matches. This weeks NZ Rugby Grandstand column shares the game highlights from each match which celebrate the best of our game.

Mitre 10 Cup Finals

Championship – Otago 14 Harbour 17

Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Down in Dunedin, it was the opening act of the weekend, and the detailed LWOR match report shows that not everything went as planned at Forsyth-Barr Stadium for Otago.

That is, unless you were a loyal North Harbour supporter. First final since 1994, and a step-up to the ‘big time’ in 2017.

Premiership – Canterbury 43 Tasman 27

AMI Stadium, Christchurch

A different story played out for the Premiership final. Hosted by the commanding Canterbury side, the AMI Stadium crwod was split split 60/40 between local and Tasman supporters.

Head coach Scott Robertson was attending his final game in charge, as he was shifting up to the Crusaders in 2017. His final wish would have been to win the 8th provincial title in nine years–and his team delivered on that promise.

From the first minute; with a charge down try, to the final minute (and sixth) try, it was a great finals performance. Only challenged when Tasman managed to briefly hold the lead 12-13, but that did not last long as Marty Banks was having a bad night.

Mounga shines with ball

In a game of such fine percentages, to not be at 100% meant that his opposite Richie Mounga shone, in a brilliant night for him with ball in hand and on the boot. In a Man of the Match showing, he was supported well by both the pack. Luke Whitelock (pictured below) led a strong unit, as the backline outclassed the Nelson Bays side. Those two elements are key to a winning rugby team–which Canterbury are.

Tasman have achieved the most of any team in the Premiership. While Counties-Manukau looked to be improving, they faltered under the stare of the Canterbury team. Even while Tasman could not claim their maiden title, they had periods in the opening three-quarters of the match to redeem themselves. In no way did they disgrace the top of the South Island.

Razor & Cup
Head Coach Scott Robertson and Luke Whitelock of Canterbury (L-R) pose with the Rugby Cup (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

So the plaudits go to Canterbury again. Well played.

Mitre 10 Cup a shining success

Here at LWOR, all sides should be commended for their adoption of the new Trial Laws. While difficult to interpret, some statistics show that fewer injuries have resulted this season, with teams encouraged to free the ball from the ruck. Some good may come from these law variations, but all sides have done themselves proud in 2016.

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Heartland Championship final

In the Grassroots Grand Final matches, their was as much on the line–more in terms of pride and respect. These amateur sides commit much, much more. Family life is foregone in the sake of provincial pride. Traveling as widely as the Mitre 10 Cup sides, but without the professional fringe benefits and salaries.

Blood given here is what makes up memories for players who might be still playing at 42 years of age–see Phil ‘Dozer’ Beveridge (who turned 43 the day after the Meads Cup final). Men who live out a career within the game. That shows a commitment that fulltime professional rugby players must surely respect.

Phil Beveridge
Buller players following the Mitre 10 Meads Cup Final in Wanganui (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

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Lochore Cup final – King Country 22 North Otago 44

LWOR reporter Mike Pulman was present in Te Kuiti, to be on-hand for this grassroots final. Those games are sometimes the most expansive, and reading Mike’s match report that proved true.

The visiting team had little to lose, in facing the reigning Lochore Cup champions. They put it on the line, and managed to extend an early lead which paid big dividends. Leaving town with the title, the reception back in Oamaru will be large. The heartland competition brings out the patriotic feeling in small town New Zealand.

Meads Cup final – Wanganui 20 Buller 18

In a season lasting eight weeks, to go unbeaten through the regular season was one step on the journey for the reigning champions Wanganui. Motivation needed to be just as high as it was in 2015. So in facing Buller; a team not many fancied early in the season, they might have assumed that they had one hand on the Cup already.

That idea was cut short by halftime, even as Craig Clare scored a good opening try, it was equaled in a well devised play from the visitors. When Anthony Tailua (pictured) scored, it quietened down local celebrations. Those too may have been premature, as the visitors stood firm at 10-10.

Anthony Tailua
Anthony Tailua of Buller celebrates a try during the Mitre 10 Meads Cup Final (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

They even managed to defend especially well, halting most of the Wanganui attacking play. It appeared they would have the better attitude, while the home town side tripped over their toes more often than in-season. It was building to a tense last quarter until lock Gavin Thornbury managed to see his team stretch to a thin lead, 20-18.

Cool heads prevail in tense final

Peter Rowe said post-match that “we found ourselves behind, and it was a real test. We still believed in what we’ve been doing all year,” and his men used all their experience to withstand the last five tense minutes.

Buller first-five James Lash, a standout all year, suffered late-match jitters. Awarded two penalties that would have tied-up the match, he missed the crucial kicks. Just as sport is unfair, is was not just because Lash had been impressive all year. To undo that under the spotlight is a shame, but the ‘Butcher Boys’ raised their fists in delight when the final whistle was blown.

Rowe was pleased with his men. The team had made the difference in the end, and in the same mild manner that All Blacks skipper Kieran Read displays, he simply said at the end of the game; when praised for his own efforts,

“it is not about one person. The whole 36 man squad deserves credit.”

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With all provincial competitions now coming to a conclusion, NZ rugby fans are satisfied. 12 weeks of solid rugby from Whangarei to Invercargill, Westport to Ruatoria, the shear volume of games is a feast.

Now, those fans can put away their local team colours and simply enjoy the last few All Blacks matches on their Northern Hemisphere tour.

Fixtures – Ireland v New Zealand, Soldier Field. November 6 | Italy v New Zealand, Rome. November 12 | Ireland v New Zealand, Dublin. November 19 | France v New Zealand, Paris. November 26.

“Main photo credit”

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