Heartland Championship preview: round one

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Thursday, August 23, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Glen Jackson, New Zealand’s No 1 whistler, will take control of the King Country-East Coast clash in Te Kuiti.

Neither union had a vintage 2017, with the Ngati Porou side winless and King Country tasting victory just once.

But the Rams have a new head coach in Craig Jeffries, while centurion and former All Blacks trialist Glynn Meads, son of the late, great, Sir Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads, is now technical advisor.

As ever with East Coast, it is a family affair, lock Hone Haerewa captaining a side that includes two other Haerewas, wing Benny and No 10 Ngarangi.

The Sky Blues may fancy their chances of an upset, having defeated Eastern Bay of Plenty 46-17 in last weekend’s warm-up clash.


Horowhenua Kapiti, after a tremendous 2017 in which the union’s flagship team hosted the Meads Cup final for the first time, faces Lochore Cup champions Mid Canterbury in Foxton.

The home side is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a new jersey, and is again going mostly local, though No 10 James So’oialo, loaned from Wellington, has played Test rugby for Manu Samoa.

Hooker Jackson Donlan and lock Eric Duff will bring their experience to the visitors’ engine room.

In Oamaru, North Otago and Buller again lock horns, 12 months after the Coasters took a 33-31 thriller.

The remarkable Luke Brownlee suits up again for his 20th season of first-class rugby, with 167 first-class outings for the union to his name, plus another 26 in other Buller matches.

Other name footballers in the settled Buller squad are blindside flanker Sam Godwin, a loaner from Canterbury who has represented NZ Universities, and fullback Robbi Malneek, a 2006 Tasman original and centurion for that union.

Boyd Park, Te Aroha, scene of the finest day in Thames Valley rugby history (the 1962 win over Australia), will see the home side take on West Coast, the 2017 Lochore Cup finalists. The Swamp Foxes would love nothing more than to kick off their campaign on the right note as a platform to make the elusive top eight and the Lochore Cup.

West Coast will be led by veteran hooker Troy Tauwhare.
Wairarapa-Bush, coming off a 33-7 defeat to Manawatu Development XV, travels to Gisborne seeking redress after winning just once in 2017, while Lochore Cup semifinalists Poverty Bay would love another season to match 1987, the small union’s red-letter year.

Last but not least, Cooks Gardens is the venue for a replay of the 2017 Meads Cup semifinal, won 29-24 by Wanganui over South Canterbury.

South Canterbury captain Nick Strachan’s team is fresh off a 26-22 win over Otago B, while Wanganui, again using Craig Clare’s experience from fullback, went down 34-19 to the Hawke’s Bay Saracens.

The match-ups:

Horowhenua Kapiti v Mid Canterbury
Saturday August 25, 2.30pm at Easton Park, Foxton

Referee: Michael Winter (Waikato)
Played: 21 (1958-2016)
Wins: Mid Canterbury 16, Horowhenua Kapiti 5
Last match: Mid Canterbury 42 Horowhenua Kapiti 26 (September 17, 2016)

King Country v East Coast
Saturday August 25, 2.30pm at Rugby Park, Te Kuiti
Glen Jackson (Bay of Plenty)
Played: 31 (1961-2016)
Wins: King Country 29, East Coast 2
Last match: King Country 72 East Coast 24 (October 8, 2016)

North Otago v Buller
Saturday August 25, 2.30pm at Whitestone Contracting Stadium, Oamaru
Hugh Reed (Hawke’s Bay)
Played: 42 (1935-2017)
Wins: North Otago 22, Buller 20
Last match: Buller 33 North Otago 31 (September 9, 2017)

Poverty Bay v Wairarapa-Bush
Saturday August 25, 2.30pm at More FM Rugby Park, Gisborne
Nick Briant (Bay of Plenty)
Played: 34 (1976-2016)
Wins: Wairarapa-Bush 17, Poverty Bay 16, Drawn 1
Last match: Wairarapa-Bush 32 Poverty Bay 30 (October 8, 2016)

Thames Valley v West Coast
Saturday August 25, 2pm at Boyd Park, Te Aroha
Damian McPherson (Poverty Bay)
Played: 18 (1984-2017)
Wins: Thames Valley 11, West Coast 6, Drawn 1
Last match: West Coast 24 Thames Valley 17 (October 7, 2017)

Wanganui v South Canterbury
Saturday August 25, 2.30pm at Cooks Gardens, Wanganui
Nick Hogan (Wellington)
Played: 39 (1894-2017)
Wins: Wanganui 25, South Canterbury 12, Drawn 2
Last match: Wanganui 29 South Canterbury 24 (October 21, 2017, Meads Cup semifinal)