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Heartland Championship preview: round five

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Thursday, September 20, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Some of them feature time-honoured rivalries, such as the Rundle Cup fixture in Westport between Buller and West Coast.

The home team’s lowly 11th position on the ladder, with no wins from four outings, will mean nothing when referee James Munro signals time on. Buller holds the Rundle Cup, with the two unions having played well over 200 times since 1896. A victory for the home side will raise the century of wins in this fixture.

But to gain the points Buller will need to shore up its defence, so porous in the 61-29 defeat to Wairarapa-Bush in round four.

West Coast, conversely, is at 2-2 for the season and in mid-table, but needed a late Nik Cummings try and some luck to edge Poverty Bay 31-30 in Greymouth last weekend. Expect a typically tight clash. 

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Thames Valley will kick off first, as it always does for home games, at 2pm, hosting the North Otago Old Golds in Te Aroha.

The Swamp Foxes scored some nice tries against King Country, but were nudged out 37-29, so will need to stiffen their defence against the Old Golds, who will be smarting after falling 27-24 to Horowhenua Kapiti in a rare home loss. They will look to No 10 Josh Buchan, who scored a sparkling solo try last weekend and racked up 14 points.

The top of the table clash between King Country and Wanganui in Te Kuiti promises much. These two unions have combined down the years to play various touring teams, famously defeating the 1966 British Lions, but all friendships go on hold for 80 minutes. The Rams are fresh off annexing the Centurions Cup from Thames Valley, while Wanganui’s defence was a feature of its 30-12 win over Mid Canterbury.Horowhenua Kapiti will be buoyed by its win in Oamaru, and even more so given they will run out in Levin for Old Timers’ Day with the PGG Wrightson Cup on the line against neighbours Wairarapa-Bush. James So’oialo’s value was underlined with his match-winning penalty goal against North Otago. Will he be needed to again perform heroics on Saturday?

Ryan Shelford will need to ensure his men bar up on defence, as Wairarapa-Bush and, in particular wing Soli Malatai, ran riot against Buller. Malatai broke the union’s individual tryscoring record, which had stood for 23 years. Wairarapa-Bush has moved up to fourth on the log.

Poverty Bay came agonisingly close to downing West Coast, and now faces its old foe Ngati Porou East Coast for the 165th time. The two unions have already met this year, in the traditional Queen’s Birthday fixture, which saw Poverty Bay triumphant. Mana Otai’s men will be favourites, as East Coast is coming off a 100-point loss to South Canterbury.
The Timaru-based union ran in 16 tries against the hapless Coasters, showing good support play but just as importantly sticking to its structures to take the Smiley Haua Memorial Trophy. Mid Canterbury, slow starters in most games this year, must be up for it from the outset or pay the consequences.


The match-ups:

Thames Valley v North Otago

Saturday September 22, 2pm at Boyd Park, Te Aroha
Referee: Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
Played: 17 (1964-2016)
Wins: Thames Valley 10, North Otago 7
Last match: North Otago 30 Thames Valley 22 (September 3, 2016)

King Country v Wanganui
Saturday September 22, 2.30pm at Rugby Park, Te Kuiti
Referee: Nick Webster (South Canterbury)
Played: 65 (1933-2017)
Wins: Wanganui 32, King Country 30, Drawn 3
Last match: Wanganui 80 King Country 3 (September 30, 2017)

Buller v West Coast
Saturday September 22, 2.30pm at Victoria Square, Westport
Referee: James Munro (Canterbury)
Played: 216 (1896-2017)
Wins: West Coast 102, Buller 99, Drawn 15
Last match: Buller 34 West Coast 19 (September 2, 2017)

Horowhenua Kapiti v Wairarapa-Bush
Saturday September 22, 2.30pm at Levin Domain, Levin
Referee: Hugh Reed (Hawke’s Bay)
Played: 54 (1971-2017)
Wins: Wairarapa-Bush 34, Horowhenua Kapiti 18, Drawn 2
Last match: Horowhenua Kapiti 38 Wairarapa-Bush 12 (October 1, 2017)

South Canterbury v Mid Canterbury
Saturday September 22, 2.30pm at Alpine Energy Stadium, Timaru
Referee: James Doleman (Otago)
Played: 139 (1927-2017)
Wins: South Canterbury 83, Mid Canterbury 51, Drawn 5
Last match: South Canterbury 31 Mid Canterbury 16 (September 9, 2017)

East Coast v Poverty Bay
Saturday September 22, 2.30pm at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria
Referee: Mike Lash (Tasman)
Played: 164 (1923-2018)
Wins: Poverty Bay 119, East Coast 40, Drawn 5
Last match: Poverty Bay 58 East Coast 18 (June 2, 2018)