Thames Valley has won the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship for the first time in the history of the union with a come from behind 17-12 win in the Meads Cup final against South Canterbury at Alpine Energy Stadium in Timaru on Saturday. In doing so they emulated the achievement of last year’s champions, Wanganui, by winning the competition after finishing in fourth place on the table at the end of the regular season.
It was Thames Valley’s first appearance in any Heartland Championship final and their first title success since winning the old NPC Division Three Championship in 1995.
South Canterbury were appearing in their second Meads Cup final after losing to Wanganui in Timaru in the 2015 final. They finished second in this years’ competition after beating Thames Valley 33-24 in Timaru just two weeks ago and went on to beat King Country 58-21 in the semi-final last week.
The South Canterbury supporters turned out in large numbers and a good contingent of Thames Valley fans made the long trip south to witness the Swampfoxes first tilt at the Meads Cup.
Thames Valley had first use of the wind and first five Reece Boughton kicked a penalty to put the visitors up 3-0 early in the game but South Canterbury were full of running and stretched the Thames Valley defence on numerous occasions before converting two try scoring opportunities into points to build a 12-3 lead heading toward the break. They threatened to score a third but desperate defence from fullback, Ethan Seymour kept them at bay with a try saving tackle that saw the score remain at 12-3 at half time.
Playing into the wind in the second half, Thames Valley needed to score first to get back into the game and captain, Brett Ranga duly obliged with a try in the fiftieth minute. Boughton converted to bring the visitors to within two points of the hosts.
The momentum of the game changed as Thames Valley controlled possession and pressed the South Canterbury defence. It seemed inevitable that they would score again and in the sixty eighth minute prop Sergio De La Fuente etched his name in Thames Valley rugby history when he crashed over from short range for what would prove to be the winning try. Boughton added the extras as Thames Valley took the lead 17-12 forcing South Canterbury to chase the game with ten minutes to go.
The Thames Valley pack took control and kept possession of the ball to deny South Canterbury any opportunity to score again. A scrum penalty to Thames Valley in the last play of the game was kicked to touch and Thames Valley beat South Canterbury 17-12 to win the Meads Cup for 2018.
Delighted Thames Valley supporters joined the players on the field to celebrate a special victory as Colin Meads’ daughter, Rhonda Wilcox presented medals to the team and the Meads Cup to co captains, Shaun Hill (unable to play owing to injury) and Brett Ranga.
The Lochore Cup Final was played on Sunday at the Levin Domain, Levin with hosts Horowhenua Kapiti up against Wairarapa Bush. In a game where the lead changed several times Horowhenua scored a try eight minutes from time to clinch their first Heartland Championship final win 26-23. Their only other success was back in 1993 when they won the old Division Three Championship.