Only after a number of weeks, you get the sense that the obsession that people say Kiwi’s have for rugby is true. It is why it is the ‘national game’. It appears to be everywhere–played in a stadium near you, down the road from you or published on a newspaper you read. That heightened awareness means the NZ Rugby Grandstand has even more to share with you this edition.

Fans in rugby heaven

Mid-winter is the time of year when fans of this game are in rugby heaven. Their weekend is full-to-overflowing with rugby matches. In the New Zealand (NZ) rugby season, club rugby has ended. Now provincial and age-grade rugby is put into the spotlight–as well it should be. Sides up and down the country continue the fine rugby tradition of community values. That applies to the Mitre 10 Cup, but even more so to the Heartland Championship.

The 12 team competition encompasses a rural stature, with sides less concentrated in the major centres. The sides are scattered across the countryside and begin an eight week campaign that will draw in fans. For some clashes, as much as the Mitre 10 Cup or Farah Palmer Cup [Women’s Provincial Championship] does. The game is strong in the rural sector. Bringing both fans and families together.

Mitre 10 Heartland Championship results

Week One Results: Saturday August 27 – Thames Valley 30 Horowhenua-Kapiti 34 | Wairarapa Bush 16 King Country 18Wanganui 74 West Coast 6 | Mid Canterbury 40 North Otago 32 | Poverty Bay 54 East Coast 30 | South Canterbury 28 Buller 26

The teams all stepped out onto the field this Saturday, each with the same goal–to claim the Meads Cup [Premier title]. Full of purpose, each of the sides would travel or defend their provinces honour, with as much pride as more senior unions. In fact, the local support sometimes outnumbers that of larger centres; comparable to their size.

South Canterbury
The Trust Ashburton Mid Canterbury won their close tussle with North Otago 40 to 32. Website: www.midcanterburyrugby.co.nz – Courtesy of Mid Canterbury Facebook page.

With matches played at the most convenient times; during the daylight hours and some just after lunch, fans were out in force. From Masterton to Ashburton, teams all pushed hard to impress–some too hard. Some sides were overconfident, and in the case of Wairarpa Bush, failed to do the basics first.

Conditions were not favourable, but ball security will need to improve if they are to rebound from a close 16-18 loss to King Country. They weren’t the only team to find they would need to re-train, as Thames Valley, North Otago and Buller each came up short.

Huge victory for the ‘Butcher Boys’

One of the biggest wins; across all competitions, was by the Wanganui side. Hosting the West Coast at Cooks Gardens, the occasion did not get the better of them. Celebrating their 100th Heartland match since this form of the provincial championship began, they continued a 75% winning record. By scoring 74-6 points, it was clearing a thrashing even though the Coast managed one consolation try to their name.

The NZ Rugby Grandstand commends each of the teams for helping to continue the fine traditions of the NPC–honest competition, fair play and welcoming the opposition after the game for a conversation and a drink (optional). The old fashioned values make the Heartland Championship one to admire across the rugby world.

#CANvAKL

Week Two — Mitre 10 Cup Results

Results: Thursday 25 August – Otago 44 Wellington 21 | Friday 26 August – Manawatu 34 Southland 31 | Auckland 37 Northland 15 | Saturday 27 August – Waikato 26 North Harbour 15 | Taranaki 55 Hawke’s Bay 28 | Sunday 28 August – Canterbury 45 Tasman 14 | Counties-Manukau 39 Bay of Plenty 34.

With the first full week completed, week two saw another seven games played from Thursday to Sunday. With a test match thrown in, the two Saturday games held fans appetites, before the main course–Wallaby.

On the Thursday night, an on-fire Otago side put their hand up as a contender. In beating Wellington 44-21, they claimed another five points to signal they are one to beat this year. The same applied to the Taranaki side–they ran out 55-28 winners over the Hawke’s Bay, and also saw their name signaled as a side to fear.

By Sunday, the form guide was in tack. Waikato had defended the shield while Manawatu had only just survived a fight in the rain up against Southland. Those matches included some mid-table and Championship sides, it is the Premiership that drives this competition.

Match of the Round: Canterbury 45 Tasman 14

A game that started out with a steady burn, it soon built-up, as the Canterbury side held firm while Tasman were testing, but not fool-proof. Marty Banks was leading them around, and the maestro very nearly had a good control of the side–only let down by some indecision.

Opposing the Tasman side were a finely-tooled Canterbury machine. An inter-franchise battle, the red and blacks worked their way into a pattern, only leading 16-9 at halftime. It soon doubled and by the whistle, men like Inga Finau were running rings around their opposites. His try was well built, but expertly finished.

Tasman suffered from being ‘all promise’ but little delivery. The scrum creaked, the breakdown was governed by Matt Todd and Richie Mounga did a fine job fitting in beside young Jordie Barrett. Their combinations already looked proven, so failing injury, some have already booked accomodation for Labour weekend in Christchurch [finals weekend].

Jordie Barrett
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – AUGUST 28: Jordie Barrett of Canterbury charges forward during the round two Mitre 10 Cup match between Canterbury and Tasman at AMI Stadium (Getty)

MVP – Jordie Barrett.

The player on most peoples mind; beside his big brother Beauden, is Under 20 World Championship player Jordie. The 19 year old is gaining a status as a game changer, and with a personal haul of 25 points. One try, four conversions and four penalties. Near perfect and he has touches of brilliance, as well as the odd mistake.

NOTE: In his first season of the NPC, Barrett maybe the ‘most sought after rookie’ in Super Rugby and his immediate plans are not crystal clear. Fans await his franchise signing announcement–just as they have Beauden’s. Re-signed for three years with the Hurricanes, he joked that he would be pusing Jordie to join him there. Imagine that combination!

NZ Rugby Grandstand–Week Two

Home sides dominated the results. If you had predicted that, then you would have been as happy as the fans who attended the matches. Hometown fans left happy, and that is what the Mitre 10 Cup is drawing on–happy fans, good rugby and there is more to come next week.

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NEW ZEALAND 29  AUSTRALIA 9

As it transpired, Australia headed over the Tasman with a fiery temperament. They had been so emasculated the week earlier, it was a time for men to stand up and be counted. Unfortunately; as it so often, the ‘enforcer’ goes too far. Adam Coleman wanted to throw his weight around, but took it too far.

“It’s always a fine line between being too passive, being too aggressive and getting it spot on,” said All Blacks prop Wyatt Crockett. “We talk about that quite a bit, as a team, about how you have to be aggressive. There is no doubt about that, but I guess it is about making sure you channel that in the right direction.”

Coleman was given 10 minutes in the sin bin. The All Blacks, by now already having scored two tries, grew in strength from that decision. Their ability to instigate such a course of action; but cleverly not to react or be incited to retaliate, was a nod to the sides self-discipline and control over their opponents. And while they did not score points in that time, by not allowing Australia to gain any points in the second half, they still gained in confidence from match one.

LWOS reporter Mike Pulman stated it his match report, that it was a consummate display. From the start, the Wallabies were chasing the home side. Often caught short, as their powers were reduced by the All Blacks awesome game, every television image of their coach Michael Cheika showed his frustration.

New Zealand claimed another win. The 15th straight victory and have played 42 games unbeaten on home soil. A record like that will make Argentina’s chances ‘slim to none’ when The Rugby Championship re-starts on Saturday 10 September. As Kieran Read hoisted the Bledisloe Cup, it had reinforced a well perceived aura of a team that were near ‘unbeatable’.

NZ Rugby Grandstand

As the ‘Men in Black’ reach their high standards, there is much to celebrate. Putting the Bedisloe Cup to bed, leading The Rugby Championship and all challengers. That high standard is filtering through to the Mitre 10 Cup. A total reinforcement of the system and of an organisation [NZ Rugby] that builds on the long history of NPC matches.

Follow all the action across the nine week Mitre 10 Cup, culminating in the final played over the Labour Weekend holiday, October 22. Traditional NPC rivalries will continue over this time. From the far north, to the deep south. And that applies as much to the Heartland Championship, as it will to the Farah Palmer Cup. All the players know that for the next two months, all eyes will be on them. Perform now, and you can rightly push a claim with your Super Rugby franchise.

With that thought, the standards could not be higher, so look forward to week three kicking off with a bang on Thursday night: Otago v Northland

“Main photo credit”

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