Heartland Championship preview: round seven

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Thursday, October 4, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Table-topping Wanganui is virtually assured of a Meads Cup berth and should secure that with victory over East Coast on Saturday, but South Canterbury, Thames Valley, Horowhenua Kapiti and King Country all hold 4-2 records. Then we have Wairarapa-Bush, Mid Canterbury, West Coast and North Otago all on 3-3. Poverty Bay has won just two out of six but still has a show to qualify for the Lochore Cup.


Hooker Matt Fetu will become South Canterbury’s 13th centurion when he runs out in the Hanan Shield fixture with North Otago in Oamaru. The union will be smarting after falling 27-24 to a late Glen Walters penalty goal in Masterton, Fullback Rico Syme scored a try and set one up for the black and greens, further highlighting his potential.

Buller hosts the early game in Westport against Mid Canterbury and it will be a special day for the remarkable flanker Luke Brownlee. Now 38, the opensider will play his 200th game for Buller, though not all have been first-class fixtures. Brownlee’s career started way back in 1999 as a teenager. There will also be acknowledgement for halfback and captain Andrew Stephens, who played his 100th first-class match for Buller in the 45-14 loss to Wanganui last week. Buller is now playing for pride, having yet to register a victory in 2018, but the proud Westport faithful will be out in numbers to honour two great stalwarts of the union.

The tiny town of Tolaga Bay will host East Coast versus Wanganui at the Uawa Domain, home of the Uawa Rugby Club. You can guarantee the Ngati Porou people will give a warm welcome to Wanganui. East Coast will be the rank underdog, but was tougher than the 7-56 scoreline against Mid Canterbury would suggest.

King Country secured what could be two vital bonus points in the 36-30 defeat to Horowhenua Kapiti, but will have designs on the full five competition points when the Rams host a Poverty Bay side that suffered a gut-wrenching 37-34 home loss to Thames Valley last weekend. The Rams scored some fine tries in the Horowhenua Kapiti match, notably to Alex Thrupp and Joe Perawiti.
There were several high points for Thames Valley in the last gasp win over Poverty Bay: veteran No 8 Alex Bradley scored a try the day before his 37th birthday, Harry Lafituanai’s sizzling 60m solo try and Reece Broughton’s 45m winning penalty goal, but the Swamp Foxes might need more of the same as hungry Horowhenua Kapiti come to Te Aroha’s Boyd Park.

Wairarapa-Bush will again look to prolific tryscoring prop Sam Gammie and opensider Epeli Rayaqayaqa, who scored a double in the upset of South Canterbury, as it travels to Greymouth to face West Coast, fresh off a heavy loss to North Otago.

The match-ups:

Buller v Mid Canterbury

Saturday October 6, 1pm at Victoria Square, Westport
Referee: Rebecca Mahoney (Wairarapa-Bush)
Played: 39 (1927-2017)
Wins: Mid Canterbury 31 Buller 8
Last match: Buller 40 Mid Canterbury 32 (October 7, 2017)

West Coast v Wairarapa-Bush
Saturday October 6, 2pm at Rugby Park, Greymouth
Referee: Nick Webster (South Canterbury)
Played: 19 (1972-2017)
Wins: Wairarapa-Bush 10 West Coast 9
Last match: West Coast 36 Wairarapa-Bush 26 (October 14, 2017)

Thames Valley v Horowhenua Kapiti
Saturday October 6, 2pm at Boyd Park, Te Aroha
Referee: Angus Mabey (Auckland)
Played: 33 (1954-2017)
Wins: Thames Valley 19, Horowhenua Kapiti 13, Drawn 1
Last match: Horowhenua Kapiti 13 Thames Valley 10 (September 9, 2017)

King Country v Poverty Bay
Saturday October 6, 2.30pm at Owen Delany Park, Taupo
Referee: Hugh Reed (Hawke’s Bay)
Played: 45 (1961-2017)
Wins: King Country 26, Poverty Bay 19
Last match: Poverty Bay 43 King Country 29 (October 7, 2017)

North Otago v South Canterbury
Saturday October 6, 2.30pm at Whitestone Contracting Stadium, Oamaru
Referee: Michael Winter (Waikato)
Played: 135 (1927-2017)
Wins: South Canterbury 90, North Otago 40, Drawn 5
Last match: South Canterbury 36 North Otago 29 (September 23, 2017)

East Coast v Wanganui
Saturday October 6, 2.30pm at Uawa Domain, Tolaga Bay
Referee: Richard Kelly (Taranaki)
Played: 27 (1976-2016)
Wins: Wanganui 24 East Coast 3
Last match: Wanganui 74 East Coast 8 (September 3, 2016)