New Zealand Rugby has a wealth of talent, with quality matches played from International level through to the grassroots, provincial rugby. In this area, the Heartland Championship captures the emotion and hard-graft that immortalizes the provincial level.
The competition is now into it’s fifth week of an eight round championship. Teams have jostled for position, traveled across the country to host or visit rural grounds where the support has consistently been strong. Smaller grounds in small towns have been full to overflowing, and that continued this weekend.
It is a breeding ground for talent, where stars can transition up to the next level: Waisake Naholo, Carlos Spencer, Jeff Wilson, to mention only three of many. The players today are under the spotlight, so expect many; like James Lash or Ralulu Bavov, to be in-line for higher honours–that includes the Heartland XV.
At the end of the season, that representative side then play teams like the Australian Barbarians, which is a step towards even higher honours [Maori All Blacks, U20 Baby Blacks]
Six quality matches played this weekend
Results from Saturday were:
THAMES VALLEY v SOUTH CANTERBURY – Thames
South Canterbury amassed their highest score in this current competition format. At 16-28 after 40 minutes, Thames were ‘in the game’ but a huge second half buried the home sides hopes.
And who knows, with a better conversion rate, South Canterbury could have hit 70 points on a great day for the Timaru based since–established in 1888.
Thames Valley 16 (Hayden Wisneski, Ben Bonner tries; Moss Doran 2 con)
Sth Canty 62 (Kalavini Leatigaga 2, Cameron Bailey 2, Hamish Strachan, Mathew Etheredge, Kieran Coll, Maxx Morris, penalty try; Willie Wright 2 con, Bailey con).
POVERTY BAY v WANGANUI – Gisbourne
This match will be memorable for plenty of reasons. The most obvious being the evasive Te Rangatira Waitokia scoring four tries. An excellent return, Steve Crosbie converted four of six, to bolster the Wanganui drive for top position.
Poverty Bay did not go down without a fight, with two tries in either half. The more effective team won on the day, but ‘the Bay’ will travel to the West Coast next week, eager to take home a win.
Pov Bay 30 (Siosiua Moala, Dan McIntyre, Body Allen, Jacob Cook tries; Isaia Vuki 3 con)
Wanganui 52 (Rangatira Waitokia 4, Michael Nabuliwaqe, Lindsay Horrocks, Campbell Hart tries; Steve Crosbie 4 con, pen). HT: 14-20
MID CANTERBURY v WEST COAST – Ashburton
With a solid, bonus point win, they have jumped up into a good position on the ladder. The Coast led 12-16 at halftime, but thanks to a good few tries to the home side, it was a performance to be proud of.
Mid Canty 34 (Jarrad Percival 2, Christian Vainerere, Jon Dampney, Mike Lynch tries; James Percival 2 con)
West Coast 22 (Erenimo Tau 2, Brogan Watt tries; Nic Cumming 2 con). HT: 12-16
HOROWHENUA-KAPITI v KING COUNTRY – Levin
The lower-central North Island derby has a powerful draw. A good crowd were on hand in a crucial game. King Country had a five to one advantage over this competition history, and with a 10-14 lead after 40 minutes, they improved in the second stanza.
With five tries in total, two for rampaging Ralulu Bavov, coach Daniel Alofa was very pleased. After improvements, he commended their work. Speaking with Fairfax Media, he said “the boys got a bit too complacent and tried offloading everything. There have been improvements. If we want to be a top four, [team] we’ve got to start well”.
Horo-Kapi 18 (Rahiri Connor Johnson, Aaron Lahmert tries; Perry Hayman con, pen; Lahmert pen)
King Country 42 (James Hemara, Ralulu Bavov 2, Gene Waller, Alex Thrupp, John Koko tries; Zayn Tipping 3 con). HT: 10-14
NORTH OTAGO v WAIRARAPA BUSH – Oamaru
The central-North Island union have played second-fiddle to South Island teams in recent years. North Otago having won seven to four games–the last result an away victory in Masterton. Wairarapa took that personally, and repaid their hosts in kind on Saturday.
Running out to a big advantage of 8-28 by halftime, the visitors then withstood the likely comeback. Always in front, the important bonus point allowed them to claim outright fourth place and will need to be at their best next week, to hold off an in-form Buller side.
Nth Otago 22 (Shay Tucker, Filipo Veamatahau, Lemi Masoe tries; Josh Casey 2 con)
Wai Bush 38 (Andrew McLean, John Ika, Glenn Walters, Iziq Foa’i, Zac Guildford tries; Tim Priest 3 con, pen).
BULLER v EAST COAST – Westport
Buller are probably the highest-performing side, with a real gain in competition points and in confidence. After the local derby last week, they got to enjoy a consecutive home match–and it showed. A 30-0 scoreline made for good reading after 40 minutes.
Donating the opposition three tries might not please the coaches, but the buoyant crowd celebrated a generous 100 points scored in two games. Cheers rang around Victoria Square, after a massive two weeks for the union.
Buller 54 (Setefano Sauqaqa 3, Anthony Tailua 3, Scott Neighbours tries; James Lash 6 con)
East Coast 22 (Long Fisiioi 2, Ben Parkes tries; Todd Doolan 2 con).
MVP – James Lash
While being on a winning side will always make players look good, James Lash has a great standing in Heartland Rugby already. The 2014 Heartland Player of the Year (pictured) has already had several seasons to stake out his resume.
Already having scored a hatrick in week three, his haul of 84 points so far this season should have locals eyeing his future. A onetime Tasman Makos development player, he has the potential to take over from Marty Banks as one to watch in the future.
Heartland Championship Week Five
Standings: Wanganui 24 pts | Sth Canty 22 | Buller 21 | Wai-Bush 19 | Mid Canty 17 | King Ctry 16 | Nth Otago 15 | Horo-Kapiti 9 | Pov-Bay 7 Thames Valley 5 | East Coast 5 | West Coast 3
Plenty to look forward to in coming weeks
Next week, teams are one game closer to the knock-out rounds. Every side wants to be in contention, but only eight teams will go on to play on October 22.
That is the goal, and a top four teams have a small break on the chasing pack–aiming for a chance to hold the Meads Cup. King Country would hope that they can beat North Otago to grab some valuable points. Mid Canterbury will be hoping the same.
For the fifth to eight placed sides, they get to challenge for the Lochore Cup, so Horowhenua-Kapiti must go down to South Canterbury with the confidence to win away from home. One of the toughest aspects of the Heartland Championship, the home side are generally favourites.
But one thing is for sure, the fan support will be out in force every week, for every match of the Heartland Championship. That is the strength of this competition. It brings out the best in the rugby community–and that is worth celebrating in itself.
“Main photo credit”