Thames Valley has guaranteed itself a place in the Heartland Championship play offs with a week to spare after defeating Horowhenua Kapiti 29-27 in Te Aroha on Saturday.
The two point victory was enough to ensure that Thames Valley will be in the semi-finals for the first time since 2013 but they will have to wait for the outcome of this week’s games to find out whether they will be playing for the Meads or Lochore Cup.
The lowest Thames Valley can finish is fifth on the points table after recording its fifth win of the season against a Horowhenua Kapiti side that it has not beaten in competition since 2011.
The result leaves Thames Valley equal on points with South Canterbury after the Southerners locked away the Hannan Shield for the summer when they beat North Otago 41-22 in Oamaru while Wanganui remains unbeaten atop the leader board and cannot be caught after giving some of its wider squad members a run at Tolaga Bay in a 56-10 win over bottom of the table Ngati Porou East Coast. King Country holds on to fourth spot and is only one point behind Thames Valley following a high scoring romp against Poverty Bay in Taupo, winning 59-38.
Thames Valley made a bright start against a Horowhenua Kapiti team that produced a strong forward pack for this match, when Co Captain Brett Ranga scored early in the half and five eighth, Reece Boughton converted. The visitors reply was swift and an unconverted try and a penalty to goal kicking ace, James So’oialo gave them the lead. The home side began to dominate mid-way through the first half and further tries were scored by Sam McCahon, Alex Bradley and Shaun Hill with Boughton adding a conversion to lead 24-11 at the interval after So’oialo had added two further penalties.
The Horowhenua Kapiti side had So’oialo to thank for his accuracy in the second half as three more successful penalties drew them within striking distance of the home side and with less than ten minutes to go, they finally cracked the Thames Valley defence and a converted try to So’oialo put them in front 27-24. In a repeat of the late game heroics in Gisborne last week, Thames Valley took control of the game and put the visitors on the back foot. A late penalty to Thames Valley which was quite kickable and would have given the team a draw was turned down in favour of kicking for touch close to the try line.
Thames Valley won the lineout and set up a forward drive which resulted in multiple sets of phase play before Alex Bradley dived over to score his second try of the day to secure the victory.
Wairarapa Bush continued its turnaround in form by beating West Coast 23-5 at the newly named, John Sturgeon Rugby Park in Greymouth. Sturgeon was the All Blacks Manager from 1988-1991 and is a former NZRU Councillor, Vice President, President and Life Member is an iconic figure in the West Coast and Buller regions but he would have been disappointed as the defeat leaves West Coast in danger of missing the play offs.
Buller finally found some form in Westport to notch up its first win of the season with a 37-19 defeat of Mid Canterbury which was a fitting way for Luke Brownlee to bring up his 200 th appearance for the union. He also kicked the final conversion to finish the day in style.