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Whanganui Midweek - 2021-11-24

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Four trophies to show for our season

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John B Phillips

Steelform Whanganui might have missed the top prize, but the 2021 squad can be proud of collecting four trophies during a successful season. Away defeats on two visits to Hanan Shield neighbours Mid Canterbury (17-24) and South Canterbury (14-28) eventually cost the Butcher Boys a crack at a seventh Meads Cup title, but the team settled down to win seven other fixtures including the 22-16 home Lochore Cup final against 2019 Meads champions North Otago. That cup plus regaining the Jones Brothers Memorial Cup (53-5 v Taranaki XV in Hawera) and the Sir Colin Meads Memorial Log (48-13 v King Country in Taupo) and retaining at home the Bruce Steele Memorial Cup against Horowhenua-Kapiti (40-15) and Wairarapa-Bush (22-18) fills up the WRFU trophy cabinet for the summer months. Double defeat on the two South Island trips placed severe pressure on the squad members but they managed to collect a bonus point (four or more tries or lose by seven or fewer points) in six of eight qualifying games. The team missed out against new Meads Cup champions South Canterbury (14-point loss) and scoring only three tries in the disappointing home win over struggling Wairarapa, who finished 10th overall. Most impressive victories were the 65-12 opening-day blitz of Poverty Bay, who staged a dramatic recovery to win five times including a 33-26 victory over Mid Canterbury in the inaugural Bill Osborne Taonga playoff for fifth place; the record 45-12 qualifying-round victory over shellshocked North Otago; and a vital 35-27 win over previously unbeaten Thames Valley. Although Whanganui officially finished third overall in the Heartland rankings, the scalping of the Swamp Foxes, who had a much easier qualifying draw, unofficially improved the Butcher Boys to second. Whanganui played all unions in the top seven rankings, missing out on No 8 East Coast, No 9 West Coast and No 11 Buller. South Canterbury and Thames Valley scored easy victories over those three struggling unions as well as against bottom-of-the-table King Country. Whanganui were one of six unions to drop down in the rankings from the last Heartland championship in 2019, slipping a spot from No 2 to No 3. North Otago went down from 1 to 4, West Coast 6 to 9, Wairarapa-Bush 4 to 10, Buller 9 to 11 and King Country 10 to 12. South Canterbury improved from 5th to first, Thames Valley 3 to 2, Poverty Bay 8 to 5, Mid Canterbury 11 to 6, and East Coast 12 to 8 with Horowhenua-Kapiti remaining at No 7. 2021 Heartland roundup 1 — South Canterbury (Meads champions) — P 9 W 9 For 400 Ag 140 Diff 260 Av score 40-16. Closest wins: 33-27 v North Otago (A), 28-14 v Whanganui (H), 35-16 v Thames Valley (H Final). 2 — Thames Valley (Meads 2nd) — P 9 W 7 L 2 For 315, Ag 183 Diff 132 Av score 35-20. Closest win 52-35 (H) v Mid Canterbury. Losses: 27-35 (H) v Whanganui, 16-35 v Sth Cant (A final.). 3 — Whanganui (Lochore champions) — P 9 W 7L 2 For 308 Ag 165 Diff 143 Av score 34-18. Closest wins 22-18 v Wair-Bush (H), 22-16 v North Otago (H Final). Losses: 17-24 Mid Cant (A), 14-28 v Sth Cant (A). 4 — North Otago (Lochore 2nd) — P 9W5L4For236Ag230Diff6Av score 26.2-25.5. Closest wins: 12-10 v Poverty Bay (H), 39-31 v East Coast (H). Losses: 17-25 v Horo-Kapiti (A), 27-33 v Sth Cant (H), 12-45 and 16-22 in final both v Whanganui (A). 5 — Poverty Bay (Bill Osborne Taonga winners) — P 9 W 5 L4 For 298 Ag 249 Diff 49 Av score 33-28. Recovered from an opening-day 12-65 loss at Cooks Gardens to qualify for a home final and avenge a 19-22 defeat in Ashburton with a 33-26 home Taonga finals win over Mid Canterbury. after a last minute 34-33 semis win over Horowhenua-Kapiti. 6 — Mid Canterbury (Osborne Taonga 2nd)—P9W5L4For252Ag242 Diff 10 Av score 28-27. Main win 24-17 home v Whanganui. Losses included 21-43 away to South Cant and 35-52 to Thames Valley and 20-32 home v North Otago. 7 — Horowhenua-Kapiti — P 8 W 5 L 3 For 214 Ag 197 Diff 17 Av score 27-25. Dropped from 4th to 7th after a lastminute 33-34 away loss in Gisborne in the final qualifying round to miss out on a Lochore or Osborne Taonga final. Won only one of last four games. 8—EastCoast—P8W3L5For242 Ag 258 Diff -26 Av score 30-32. Broke a record 54-match losing record over eight years with a 50-26 win over Buller in Ruatoria and then won away v Poverty Bay 31-28 and WairarapaBush 34-19 for the Ngati Porou union to celebrate their 100th anniversary, Coast were boosted by three notable loan players — ex-All Blacks Ma’a Nonu and Hosea Gear (also assistant coach) and Manu Samoan rep Faifili Levave. 9—WestCoast—P8W3L5For 181 Ag 219 Diff -38 Av score 23-27. Held off East Coast 34-38 at home and beat lower-ranked King Country 34-19 and Buller 22-14 in away matches. 10 — Wairarapa-Bush — P 8 W 2, L 6, For 139 Ag 254 Diff -115 Av score 17-32. By far the best effort was a close 18-22 loss at Cooks Gardens although the Stags held off West Coast 19-18 in Masterton and beat King Country 24-12 at Te Kuiti. A poor record after finishing fourth in 2019 and sixth in 2018. 11 — Buller — P 8 L 8 For 126 Ag 320 Diff -194 Av score 16-40. Closest defeat was 14-22 at home against neighbours West Coast. The union’s lowest ever Heartland placing, one behind 10th in 2006-09-18. 12 — King Country — P 8 L 8 For 113 Ag 367 Diff -254 Av score 14-46. As with Buller, the union’s lowest ranking, the previous worst being 11th in 2011-12 and 10th in 2017-19. Closest defeat was 12-24 when hosting WairBush. Multi medal winners When halfback Lindsay Horrocks, hooker Roman Tutauha and prop Viki Tofa helped Steelform Whanganui win the Bunnings Warehouse 2021 Lochore Cup final, they took their tally of Heartland victory medals to five. Hooker Cole Baldwin, the new Border club champion coach, holds the Whanganui record of seven winning medals — Meads Cup titles in 2008-09-11-15-15-17, and the 2014 Lochore Cup. Baldwin, who played 105 times for the union between 2006 and 2017, played in Meads Cup-winning teams against Mid Canterbury (27-12 here in 2008), Mid Canterbury (34-13 at Christchurch in 2009), East Coast (30-10 here in 2011), South Canterbury (28-11 at Timaru in 2015), Buller (20-18 here in 2015) and Horowhenua-Kapiti (30-14 at Levin in 2017) plus in a Lochore Cup final (North Otago 14-12 at Oamaru in 2014). Former long-time NZ Heartland captain Peter Rowe, who had 120 games for the union between 2003 and 2017, played in the 2014 Lochore final plus the 2009-09-15-16 Meads finals. He is now joined by Horrocks, Tutauha and Tofa, who were all members of the 2015-16-17 Meads and 2014-21 Lochore champion sides. Unbeaten season It was third time lucky for unbeaten South Canterbury who claimed the top Bunnings Warehouse 2021 Heartland title, the Meads Cup, with a 35-16 home win over Thames Valley. The victory was revenge for an unexpected 17-12 loss to the Thames Valley Swamp Foxes at the same Timaru ground in the 2018 final. South Canterbury also hosted the 2015 final, losing 28-15 to the Whanganui Butcher Boys in a final that featured Samu Kubunavanua’s amazing try, which started behind his own try line and was later voted New Zealand’s Try of the Year. This year South Canterbury joined Whanganui as the only unbeaten Meads Cup champions. The 2016 Butcher Boys, despite being fully extended to hold off visiting Buller 20-18 in the final, scored 440 points and conceded 154 for an average winning score of 44-15 from 10 victories. Fullback-winger Te Rangatira Waitokia (Metro Colts), then 20, who became NZ Heartland Player of the Year and returned from the US to help Whanganui win the recent Lochore Cup final. He scored 13 tries for the 2016 unbeaten Butcher Boys. The 2008 Whanganui reps also boasted a clean slate after beating visiting Mid Canterbury 27-10 in the Meads final at Cooks Gardens, scoring 429 pts and conceding 108 with an overall average match score of 43-11. Wingers Johnny Mow (Coastal), with 13 tries, and Cameron Crowley (Marist), with a dozen, helped the champions score 63 tries, three more than the 2016 team. This year South Canterbury finished with a nine-match average score of 44-18, scoring 400 points and conceding 140. There were no semifinals this season. Whanganui still hold the Heartland records for most points (440 in 2016) and most tries (63 in 2008) in a season. ■ This is the final Talking Rugby column for the year.

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