Thames Valley missed the opportunity to move into outright second place in the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship after losing a close fought game to the neighbouring King Country Rams at Boyd Park, Te Aroha.
King Country remains unbeaten after four rounds and shares top of the table status with Wanganui, who staved off a determined Mid Canterbury challenge at Cooks Gardens with a 30-12 win.
Outscoring Thames Valley by five tries to four, King Country showed why they are still unbeaten in the championship, with a good all round game that had just that little bit extra to shade Thames Valley at crucial times in the game.
The victory saw the Centurions Cup wrestled from Thames Valley along with four championship points to leave the team locked in fourth place on the table, along with Wairarapa Bush, Mid Canterbury and West Coast all on 12 points while Horowhenua Kapiti and this week’s opponents, North Otago are only one point further back.
Sam McCahon scored the first of Thames Valley’s tries in the fifth minute with Reece Boughton converting and adding a penalty to tie the scores after King Country had earlier taken the lead.
A period of good play resulted in a converted try to Kieran Lee but the good work was undone on the stroke of half time as the visitors scored again to draw level.
The early part of the second half was all about King Country as they built a 20 point lead with tries to Joe Perawiti, Ratu Vosaki, Chulain Mabbett-Sowerby, Tana Tuakaraina and Tim Hounsell.
Thames Valley responded in kind with tries to Glen McIntyre and replacement winger, Ethan Seymour but fell one point short of another bonus point for losing by less than seven points.
Thames Valley had the upper hand for the last part of the game but the King Country defence held firm to take the game 37-29 much to the disappointment of the large crowd in attendance.
The game was the main event of six rep games played in Te Aroha as part of the annual Centurions Cup interchange with King Country and drew one of the largest crowds to a Thames Valley game in recent years.
There were was also a large amount of media interest in the game owing to the appointment of Rebecca Mahoney as the referee for the match.
Mahoney became the first female referee to officiate a men’s first class rugby fixture in New Zealand.
Mahoney was one of two women named in the High Performance Referee National Squad earlier this year with this appointment acknowledging her progress in the refereeing ranks.
Mahoney played 16 matches for the Black Ferns before turning her attention to refereeing.
Since 2015 she has officiated sevens at the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens, taken charge of one Test match and two Farah Palmer Cup finals and a pre-season Heartland fixture between Thames Valley and Ngati Porou East Coast at Waihi in August this year.
The Thames Valley Roller Mills team started off the day with a 32-17 loss to King Country while the Under 14s couldn’t be separated with a 12 all draw.
Thames Valley Under 16s provided the upset of the day with a superb team effort to win 24-19 much to the delight of head coach Don Edgecombe while the Under 18s lost a tight game 24-17.
The Development Team was too strong for King Country and although the scores were tied at 12 all at half time, Thames Valley powered away in the second half to win 29-12.
The result means Thames Valley cannot be over taken by the teams behind them but by failing to get a bonus point from this game they cannot catch the unbeaten Auckland side with only one round to play.
The Under 45kg Invitation Tournament was held at Boyd Park on Sunday with Thames Valley playing two games on the final day.
The first game against Hamilton Gold was quite a tussle as Thames Valley recovered well from an early setback to go down fighting 26-24 but their opponents in the second game were the unbeaten King Country side who put 68 points on Hamilton Black in their first game.
King Country was in fine form and won 67-0 to go through the tournament undefeated in all games.
This was the last game of the season for the Under 45s and the Under 14s campaign has also concluded.