A Meads Cup final berth awaits Thames Valley in Timaru after they defeated the previously unbeaten Wanganui side 17-7 in a Mitre 10 Heartland Championship semi-final at Cooks Gardens, Wanganui on Saturday. Their opponents next week will be South Canterbury after they brought King Country’s season to an abrupt halt with a 58-21 victory at Alpine Energy Stadium in Timaru.
Neither finalist has ever won the Meads Cup so a new name will be added to the trophy next week.
This is the first time Thames Valley has ever appeared in any Heartland Championship final while South Canterbury has been in four Lochore Cup finals and one Meads Cup final, defeating Buller in 2013 to win the Lochore Cup in their only final success to date.
To qualify for the final, Thames Valley had to overcome a Wanganui side that has dominated this year’s competition to forge a formidable record going into the play offs. They had won eight out of eight games, running up over 300 points and collecting bonus point wins in all but one game and had every right to be confident going up against an improved Thames Valley team in the semi-final with home ground advantage as an added bonus but the Thames Valley team put together a comprehensive performance that proved too much for Wanganui.
Playing with a strong wind at their backs Thames Valley made good use of the conditions after a shaky start, to put Wanganui under early pressure.
A disallowed try under the posts after five minutes was soon forgotten as prop Sitiveni Tupou crashed over minutes later for the opening try. First five, Reece Boughton added the conversion and the visitors led 7-0. Thames Valley continued to apply pressure but Wanganui held firm and forced their way onto the attack and in a rare foray into the Thames Valley 22, second five Penijamini Nabainivalu came close to scoring but was adjudged to have lost the ball forward when crossing the line. Thames Valley regained their composure and used the wind to regain territory and camp in the Wanganui 22.
Hooker Glen McIntyre was next to score with a try on the half hour and Boughton once again converted to increase the lead. More pressure led to a penalty just over 40m from the posts and Boughton stepped up to nail the three points and Thames Valley led 17-0 at half time.
Wanganui needed to score early in the second half but it didn’t happen as numerous errors and strong Thames Valley defence kept them at bay. Thames Valley played well into the wind and found themselves in the Wanganui half more than expected, almost scoring on two occasions but it was from one of these attacks that Wanganui recovered well enough to gain good field position allowing Craig Clare to dot down for what turned out to be their only try with less than quarter of an hour to go. Clare converted his own try but Thames Valley had the upper hand by now and their defence was resolute.
Wanganui was awarded a penalty about 40m out with five minutes to go and Clare opted for the shot but he dragged his effort to the left of the posts and Thames Valley regained possession from the dropout after Brett Ranga spectacularly caught the kick on the full and raced down field to put the visitors back on the attack. Wanganui found themselves defending desperately as Thames Valley wound down the clock to close out the game and book a place in the Meads Cup Final with a 17-7 victory.
South Canterbury won in contrasting fashion by forging a big lead early on and then scoring at regular intervals to shut King Country out completely. The manner of the victory was compelling given the quality of the opposition as King Country only lost two games on the way to the semi-finals. South Canterbury scored seven tries with half back Willie Wright scoring one of them and kicking seven conversions and three penalties for a personal tally of twenty eight points in the 58-21 win.