James Lash: Heartland Rugby everything he enjoys about the Game
WANGANUI, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 29: James Lash of Buller passes during the Mitre 10 Meads Cup Final match between Wanganui and Buller on October 29, 2016 in Wanganui, New Zealand. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

Another weekend, and another Super Saturday. The focus changes subtly from last weekend, where now fans find that the Heartland Championship begins, along with the crucial Black Ferns/All Blacks test matches.

They can also enjoy more Mitre 10 Cup and Currie Cup competitions which continue in the Southern Hemisphere. And up in the Northern Hemisphere, the French Top14 begins, while Premiership and Pro14 teams complete preparations before the ‘big weekend’ of rugby on September 1.

But four International teams will take to the stage on Super Saturday. It will be ‘double-delight’ for the 50,000 plus fans who will pack into Eden Park later this afternoon.

The huge choice is a delight for rugby fans [and commentators]. As the Heartland Championship begins, to assist you to digest what/where/who and when, Last Word on Rugby gives you a full breakdown – with all local match times applicable.

Super Saturday: Heartland Championship begins

As much as the Mitre 10 Cup takes the big matches around New Zealand, it is that much more significant, then the Heartland Championship. The rural and provincial unions who cover the North and South islands.

The competition sees 12 teams play 54 matches, across 10 weeks. Teams compete for two prestigious pieces of silverware; the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup. The two divisions play each other once, which a handful of crossover matches, before the knockout matches to decide who can then call themselves Heartland rugby’s very best.

Draw Announced for 2018 Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland Championship in New Zealand
Captain Jackson Donlan of Mid Canterbury (C) and his team mates celebrate with the Lochore Cup after their win in the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship Final on October 29, 2017 in Methven, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

New Zealand Rugby’s Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass said the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship is a popular competition that produces hard-fought, exciting matches. “This competition is truly unique to New Zealand and highlights what is so good about our game.

“There is a distinct grassroots feel to the Heartland Championship with dedicated players, coaches, management and fans that epitomise what rugby is all about. These are people that work full time, train at nights and travel across the country each weekend all for the pride of their jersey and province,” said Cass.

The fixture list allows for Saturday afternoon matches too. A pleasure for both rural and metropolitan rugby fans, who can plan their Super Saturday as the Heartland Championship begins – followed by a double-header of test matches.

The full list of matches are;
  • Horowhenua Kapiti v Mid Canterbury – Foxton, 2:30pm (NZT)

  • King Country v East Coast – Te Kuiti

  • North Otago v Buller – Oamaru

  • Poverty Bay v Wairarapa Bush – Gisborne

  • Thames Valley v West Coast – Te Aroha

  • Wanganui v South Canterbury – Cooks Gardens, Whanganui

With the schedule playing at 2:30pm, it allows for the community to embrace the matches. And the Mitre 10 Cup also celebrates the national provincial championship (NPC). That competition enters it’s second week, with two fixtures that are being played this afternoon too.

  • Canterbury v Wellington – Christchurch, 2:00pm (NZT)

  • Waikato v North Harbour – Hamilton, 4:35pm

Timings are considerate of both International test matches scheduled for Saturday night.

Black Ferns v Wallaroos – Eden Park, 5:00pm

After their successful first test match since August 2017, the Black Ferns must be looking to [and will likely] improve on the 11-31 victory over the Wallaroos. The squad would have benefited from the hit-out, while looking at their skills and performance.

The women will also be aware that the full support of the nation is behind them. Last week, as the gates opened with little time before the teams opened the first leg of the International double-headers, few witnessed the start of the game. At Eden Park, gates open 30 minutes before the New Zealand and Australian women run onto the field.

Expect a bigger audience, with heavy promotion and a big expectation. Knowing that, the Black ferns must still be cautious over their opponents. The Wallaroos will have worked twice as hard, to counter their rivals. Never defeating the Black Ferns is a big aim, so Fiao’o Faamausili has to command her team to play the style of rugby that has secured them five Women’s Rugby World Cup titles; dominant.

Fans will surely be rewarded when they turn up early, to a top-class International rugby match. The quality of players and skills displayed by both teams, is exemplary of the growth of the sport and the performance of all the woman selected to represent their nations.

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Super Saturday – second test; All Blacks v Wallabies

While much has already been written about the outcome from last week, it is the prospect of another game at Fortress Eden Park that has All Blacks fans salivating. Known for the undefeated record, Eden Park is also where statistics back-up the strength of victories for the New Zealand men.

If anything can be gained for Michael Cheika and his group, it is in repairing the setpiece horrors from Sydney. 40 plus missed tackles and seven lost lineouts – that is the focus. Skipper Michael Hooper yesterday spoke of his desire to look at themselves primarily.

“We believe in our shape, we believe in what we can do… the mindset’s confident, the mindset understands what we need to do to be a contending team all the time.”

The challenge for Kieran Read and his men – besides putting on a performance to honour prop forward Owen Franks’s 100 test match – is to improve. A poor opening 40 minutes saw them behind on the scoreboard. Steve Hansen will ask for an improvement on that, and with a full house at Eden Park, the pressure to reach the expected heights of a World Champion side can be an all too impossible situation.

Marc Hinton of stuff.co.nz said “The All Blacks have that sort of firepower when they line up the other aspects of their game. The Wallabies simply don’t. More so with Israel Folau marked absent for week two.”

If the All Blacks do the little things, are wary of their opposition (just like the Blacks Ferns must be) then the result should see them retain top-place on the below Rugby Championship ladder.

2018 Rugby Championship Round Two

As well, The Rugby Championship continues in South America. The hosts will demand an improvement on their second half capitulation, where the Springboks ‘bounced’ back from a poor opening 40 minutes. Head coach Mario Ledesma needs to secure a win, and to aim for a bonus point win – to keep the championship alive.

His opposing coach Rassie Erassmus might well believe his side is developing a clearer pattern. And his Springbok fans saw that last week – the first test where both wingers each scored twice. A change in attitude that could release their potential, although defence is always going to need to be the priority….before Handre Pollard can release his backline.

Argentina v South Africa – Estadio Malvinas, Mendoza 5:05pm (ARG)

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While the International sides competing across the Atlantic, in South Africa the provincial competition will begin formally. The popular Currie Cup will have a full compliment of fixtures from both the Premiership and Division One teams.

Last week, the Rugby departments ‘man on the ground’ in South Africa, Cornelius Myburgh reported on Week One results. This week, the action steps-up, with four games played on Saturday.

Note: The Lions v Griqus at Ellis Park, and the SWD Eagles v Leopards match at Outeniqua Park were both played on Friday night.

Currie Cup Premiership:

  • Natal Sharks v Blue Bulls – 3.00pm (RSA) Durban
  • Western Province v Free State Cheetahs – 5:15pm Cape Town

Currie Cup First Division:

  • Boland Cavaliers v Eastern Province – 2:30pm Van Zyl Sport Grounds, Robertson
  • Hino Valke v Border Bulldogs – 4:00pm Barnard Stadium, Kempton Park

Breaking News: Shock withdrawal of Namibian team reduces contests

SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux confirmed in an media release on Friday that the organizers had been informed that the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias will withdraw from the Currie Cup First Division.

“It’s unfortunate that the Namibian team had to withdraw from the Currie Cup First Division, but our decision was that they have to pay for teams to travel to Windhoek for their home games, which they agreed to do,” said Roux.

“We’ve since been informed that they can’t do that anymore and that the Windhoek Draught Welwitschias will withdraw from the competition, which means that all remaining teams will now have a bye on the weekend they were scheduled to play the Namibians.”

That will reduce the competition even further, as the organizers had already made alterations over successive seasons. If the game in the provinces and regions of South Africa and the southern region of Africa is to be strong, then a full calendar – and full backing – of all unions is a must.

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Super Saturday brings a wealth of rugby union

The selection is again spread over a full 24 hour period. From 2:30pm in New Zealand, until 5:15pm in South Africa, the range and breadth of games is inspiring. Last Word on Rugby will look to continue to shine a light on this range, as next week the Northern Hemisphere awakes from their summer break.

Meanwhile, the Farah Palmer Cup will begin on September 1, as will the Australian National Rugby Championship (NRC). That adds to the planning for fans, as the height of domestic representative rugby for women and men raises the bar [yet again].

So sit back, circle your favourite games or, even better, get out and head down to a game in your location. Listening to the hits and cheering for the tries scored, is what supporting rugby is all about.

 

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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