South Canterbury will play host to Thames Valley in the final round of the Heartland Championship at Alpine Energy Stadium in Timaru this weekend. The venue has been temporarily renamed for this game and will be known as Matt Fetu Stadium in honour of the South Canterbury prop who played his 100th game against North Otago in Oamaru last and will make his first home appearance since becoming a centurion in the game against Thames Valley this weekend.
Coached by Barry Matthews for the last four seasons, South Canterbury has been unbeaten at home in round robin games since his tenure began. After losing to Wanganui in the opening round of this year’s competition, South Canterbury went on a four game winning streak before Wairarapa Bush tripped them up in something of a boil over in Masterton. They got back on track last week with a healthy win against fierce rivals and neighbours, North Otago in Oamaru and now have their sights set on Thames Valley.
There are numerous possible outcomes regarding the final positions on the points table but there a couple of certainties already established. Whoever wins this game will finish in outright second place and earn a Meads Cup home semi-final while the loser can finish anywhere from third to fifth. If the game was to end in a draw then King Country may overtake both of them if they were to beat Mid Canterbury.
The Thames Valley record in Timaru in the Heartland championship is bleak, with the team yet to record a win there since the competition began in 2006 and in the twelve times they have met home or away, the 21-17 win in Paeroa in 2013 is the only success to date. History will have to be made again this week in order for the team to succeed however the Swampfoxes have been doing that quite a bit lately including three away wins in a row this year which they had never been able achieve before. Various other team records have been broken but they are all academic to Coach Matthew Bartleet as his team faces up to their biggest challenge yet. Injuries continue to test the depth of his squad with lock Connor McVerry the latest casualty and looks unlikely to don the Scarlet and Gold jumper again this year. With the prospect of a Meads Cup home semi-final up for grabs, Bartleet and Matthews will both being targeting this as a must win game.
Bartleet has named the following players for this game: T Kutia, G McIntyre, S Tupou, C Dromgool, M Rolston, B Ranga, C Kelleher, A Bradley, B Bonnar, R Boughton, K Lee, S Hill, S McCahon, E Seymour, H Lafituanai. Reserves: S Ouchi, S De La Fuenhe, K Lewis, M Hart, M Fisher, N Emery, L Easton.
The referee is Richard Kelly from Taranaki and kick off is at 2.30pm.
Top of the table Wanganui hosts Horowhenua Kapiti at Cooks Gardens, with the top qualifying spot already in the bag. The visitors could cause an upset and launch themselves into Meads Cup contention with a win but they can finish no higher than third.
Fourth placed, King Country travels to Ashburton to play a Mid Canterbury side that has been flying under the radar this year after winning the Lochore Cup Final against West Coast in Methven last year. The home side has a three win four loss record so far this year and boasts a strong finals record in recent years and is known to finish well but a win to the visitors would ensure a Meads Cup place for the men from Te Kuiti.
Poverty Bay has everything to play for while Buller’s season is over already when they meet at Rugby Park in Gisborne. Currently outside the top eight, Poverty Bay can still make it if they win and other results go their way while Buller are out of the running. Wairarapa Bush can earn a home semi-final in the Lochore Cup if they can beat North Otago in Masterton and the visitors can also get there if they were to win.
East meets West when the Coast teams play at Rugby Park in Greymouth in the remaining fixture. It has been another tough year for the Ngati Porou East Coast team and a win would mean so much but West Coast will be eyeing another tilt at the Lochore Cup after losing last year’s final and with North Otago and Poverty Bay right on their heels the home side will be pulling out all the stops.