With so many local derby matches, the results from Week Five of the Heartland Championship has only minutely defined the standings. For fans and followers of New Zealand grassroots rugby, their focus was directed solely on the field, and on the heritage and tradition of the national provincial rugby competition.
For those new to the Heartland Championship, it is the division below the Mitre 10 Cup. Only a little, as the teams included are as focused, if not more so than, their professional counterparts. For the players in the Heartland Championship, pride and community, play more of a part, than rewards alone.
Derby Matches galore in the Week Five of Heartland Championship
And this is where this weekend’s draw saw many more local derby matches than usual. It saw a couple of key South Island, and three North Island derbies that heralded the tradition of this competition.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 22, 2018
Several inter-province Trophies were up for grabs. The Hanan Shield and Rundle Cup were both up for grabs; the former (above) where Rugby World Cup winning All Black Joe Moody displayed the aspirational pathway that sides within the Heartland Championship can still foster; Waisake Naholo had one season within heartland rugby].
Some traditions that go back to 1896; with the West Coast v Buller game, being those teams’ 216th encounter over 122 years [source, NZ Rugby]. A long-standing history that means much to each team support base. And a win to the West Coast on Saturday now means the ledger is 103-99 games in the West Coast’s favour.
So too did it when East Coast hosted Poverty Bay for the 165th time. Those two unions had faced off over a history dating back to 1923. Just an example of the historical significance, and similar to other long-established domestic competitions; like the Currie Cup.
Across all the six matches, tradition and competition each held the same value. Rivalries count for much, but the competition to qualify for the Meads Cup [seeded sides 1-4] and for the Lochore Cup [seeds 5-8] respectively; is similar for every side across the eight-week regular season.
Week Five Heartland Championship results:
Buller 28 West Coast 34
East Coast 19 Poverty Bay 26
Horowhenua Kapiti 37 Wairarapa Bush 21
King Country 19 Wanganui 36
South Canterbury 41 Mid Canterbury 10
Thames Valley 43 North Otago 21 (the only non-local derby match in Week Five)
The results have cemented a couple of teams places on the Heartland Championship standings. Current holders of the Meads Cup Wanganui, stay at the top of the field. Now the only unbeaten team in the competition, it supports their favoured status.
So after 5 weeks of competition, look who stands atop the #HeartlandChampionship standings… #Wanganui
Not to say that #SouthCanterbury or @KC_Rugby cannot recover those lost points. The next 3 weeks are crucial for all teams chances at the #MeadsCup #LochoreCup #rugbyunited pic.twitter.com/ECPYlX7Ho2
— #RugbyNewZealand (@RugbyNZ_) September 23, 2018
For now, it is very much up to the ‘chasers’ to be on their game. Wanganui have a relatively easy last three weeks, while second-placed South Canterbury face Wairapa Bush  and North Otago  away, before the final round match against Thames Valley . Relatively easy, but in the Heartland Championship, that is only relative.
Top Four places ‘up for grabs’ in Heartland Championship
Relative because the competition is truly even. This weekends local derby matches did little to alter the standings, true. And it means that sides wanting to catch-up to the title leading Wanganui team, have to perform over the final three weeks of the regular season or…..you get the point.
For King Country, and Thames Valley/Horowhenua-Kapiti Coast [equal on points] they must fight hard to retain their elite places. Winning will do it, but each has challenges ahead of them.
Next three games listed – (h) Home (a) Away
King Country v Horowhenua-Kapiti (a) | Poverty Bay (h) | Mid Canterbury (a)
Thames Valley v Poverty Bay (a) | Horowhenua-Kapiti (h) | South Canterbury (a)
Horowhenua-Kapiti v King Country (h) | Thames Valley (a) | Wanganui (a)
It is possible of course, that these leading sides have a poor return – thus promoting some of the chasing sides. West Coast might be a team to benefit; as they face North Otago, Wairapa Bush, and finally the classic West Coast v East Coast fixture.
After that last stage of the competition, it will unfold which of the top four sides can cement their places in the Division Three Meads Cup. This is in relation to the Mitre 10 Cup – where the Premiership equates to a Division One, and the Championship is equivalent to the Second Division.
That means for Heartland Championship teams, finishing in places 5-8 equates to the Fourth Division finals. And by the final weekend of October 13, all the semi-finalists will be known and the knockout stages begin.
While that might seem a long wait to find out who qualifies, it is also a few more weeks to enjoy the high-quality rugby on offer, from the New Zealand Heartland Championship 2018.
“Main photo credit”
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