The Thames Valley Swampfoxes had plenty to celebrate after winning the Meads Cup in this year’s Heartland Championship.
The 30-man squad, along with the development team, coaches and supporters gathered at One3One restaurant, in Paeroa, on Friday night for a prizegiving event.
Coach Matt Bartleet told the crowd the team had gone into the season with a plan to win the competition and believed they could do it.
He also spoke about how the team had increased pride and respect for the team jersey, which he thought had diminished at the representative level over recent years.
Bartleet thought the increased pride and respect for wearing the red and gold jersey had played some role in their competition win.
“You don’t do as much for the jersey if you don’t value where it comes from,” he said.
He said a lot of learning was needed to get the answers to win, but overall “it’s glorious, it’s great”.
The win was special to him on a personal level too, having debuted for the Swampfoxes in 1996 – the year after Thames Valley last won a championship.
In a playing or coaching capacity, it was a result he had tried to emulate ever since.
Reflecting on the season gone, Heartland captain and Player of the Year Brett Ranga said he was “definitely proud of the boys”.
Scoring the team’s first try 50-minutes into the final, he said it was a relief to get some more points on the board. Prior to his try, the team were trailing 3 points to 12.
His highlight of the game was the final whistle because it was a “weight of the shoulders” knowing the team would talk away with the Meads Cup.
Prop Sergio de la Fuente, who is from Chile, said the win “meant heaps” to him, as well as scoring the winning try in the 68th minute.
He said, “New Zealand is first in the world for rugby, so everyone at home is proud.
“For a Chilean to play for a team in New Zealand is important.”
He said the Swampfoxes had welcomed him in like a family. “There is always huge support from the team.”