Meads Cup final preview

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Thursday, October 25, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

Meads Cup final
South Canterbury v Thames Valley
Saturday October 27, 1.05pm at Alpine Energy Stadium, Timaru

Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (Canterbury)
Played: 20 (1976-2018)
Wins: South Canterbury 15, Thames Valley 5
Last match: South Canterbury 33 Thames Valley 24 (October 13, 2018)

South Canterbury will feel it is in the box seat, playing before its home fans in one of the best non-Mitre 10 Cup stadia, and having placed second overall after the round-robin.

In coach Barry Matthews, the black and greens have a canny coach who won the 2010 Meads Cup with North Otago. His squad is packed with experience, talent and form and is coming off a very impressive 58-21 defeat of King Country in last weekend’s semifinal. Popular tighthead prop Garret Casey scored a brace, while first five Miles Medlicott racked up his 50th cap. The team executed well and was sound on defence. Just two weeks ago, South Canterbury saw off Thames Valley 33-24 in Timaru.

Earlier this week, inspirational skipper Nick Strachan, lock Veikoso Poloniati and halfback Willie Wright all made the New Zealand Heartland XV selection.

South Canterbury, which won the 2013 Lochore Cup but has never got its hands on the Meads Cup, has known some great days, beating France in 1961, having two Ranfurly Shield eras (1950 and ’74), and annexing the old NPC division three in 1986, 1991 and 2001. Matthews’ men would dearly love to add 2018 to the list of red-letter seasons, especially since falling in the 2017 semifinal after topping the table.

But the home side, for all the elements in its favour, will be on high alert.

Thames Valley sprang the biggest upset of the season in downing defending champion Wanganui 17-7 at Cooks Gardens to win through to an historic first Meads Cup decider.

Buoyed by a solid set-piece, a 17-0 halftime lead with a stiff wind and a large band of travelling supporters, the Swamp Foxes did the unthinkable and are now on the cusp of what could be another great day in the union’s 96-year history. There have been some glory days, beating Auckland nine times (the last in 1957), sinking the 1962 Wallabies in Te Aroha and winning NPC division three titles in 1988, ’90 and ’95. This small union has often batted well above its weight, and now the Swamp Foxes will head to Timaru under little pressure and with literally everything to play for.
Coach Matt Bartleet has, however, lost his captain Shaun Hill for this clash, meaning dynamic fullback Harry Lafituanai shifts to centre, where he will mark the solid Shayne Anderson. There is a hard edge to the loose trio in former Chiefs No 8 Alex Bradley, 37-years young, loan player Christian Kelleher and the tireless Brett Ranga, who assumes the captain’s armband. The front-row is anchored by Sitiveni Tupou, who is a handful with and without the ball. This rugged pack has allowed the backs free rein and they have scored some superb tries. But when the game has needed discretion and tighter play, the pack has rolled its sleeves up. The try to hooker Glen McIntyre off a lineout drive last weekend is a classic example of this ability to adapt.

Lance Easton, the fullback/wing cum prop, wears the No 22 jersey.

Bradley, Hill, McIntyre and Ranga all made the Heartland XV.

The winner can call itself the 15th best provincial union in the country, but, of more relevance, the top amateur PU. For Thames Valley, ninth in the 2017 Heartland Championship, and with just six top tier clubs, that would be a notable achievement.

Watch the Meads Cup final LIVE on Sky Sport from 1pm on Saturday 27 October.

South Canterbury:
Rico Syme, Setefano Sauqaqa, Shayne Anderson, Zac Saunders, Kalavini Leatigaga, Miles Medlicott, Willie Wright, Loni Toumohuni, Nick Strachan (c), Timote Tuipulotu, Veikoso Poloniati, Kieran Coll, Garret Casey, Pita Anae Ah Sue, Matt Fetu
Reserves: Marac Beckham, Dominic Visesio, BJ Oliver, Andrew Gooden, Theo Davidson, Jared Trevathan, Sione Fa’aso’o

Thames Valley: Ethan Seymour, Matthew Abraham, Harry Lafituanai, Sam McCahon, Kieran Lee, Reece Broughton, Ben Bonnar, Alex Bradley, Christian Kelleher, Brett Ranga (c), Connor McVerry, Cameron Dromgool, Sitiveni Tupou, Glen McIntyre, Te Huia Kutia
Reserves: Shin Ouchi, Sergio de la Fuente, Keegan Lewis, Ben Vincent, Matt Fisher, Nathan Emery, Lance Easton