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Thames Valley RFU year in review and reminisce of the 2021 Rugby year

The Thames Valley Rugby Football Union have endured yet another tough, but rewarding year in 2021 with lots of highs, lows and several highlights that we want to share with you.

The year began with our awesome and now highly anticipated Level 2 Developing Rugby Coaches Course in Waihi. Twelve participants from all over our region attended, with an action packed two days of action covering topics such as planning, scrummaging, principles of play, coaching methods and culture. A big thank you must go to David Harrison, Matt Rolston and Ross Cooper for their assistance on the course. Congratulations to Herman Harmzen, Rua Jones, Mike Ussher and Jon Liddell for passing the course and now becoming Level 2 Qualified.

Moving on the commencement of Small Blacks & Rugby Smart Courses took place, with a handful of evening musters taking place around the region. It was great to roll out a new fresh itinerary at these courses with lots of ‘Game Based’ coaching on topic, organisation and brainstorming sessions making for good talking points. We hope participants bring a great open-minded approach again in 2022.

Soon enough, Junior, Secondary School and Club Rugby kicked off with some interesting formats on the table and a very exciting feel considering the 2020 season was cut short due to Covid-19.

Junior Rugby played out a full 13-week competition, with finals day taking place in Whangamata for the first time and what an awesome day it was. Congratulations to the following teams who won their respective competitions: Year 3 – Te Aroha, Year 4 – Waihi Athletic, Year 5 – Waihi Athletic, Year 6 – Hauraki Plains, Year 7/8 – Thames. A big thank you to everyone involved for making it a great day, especially the Whangamata Junior Rugby Committee for all their hard work. Shaw Cup/Fleming Shield was back, and with our four regions we formed a great 3-week competition. Southern, Western, Central Coast and Peninsula went head-to-head each week, but unfortunately it was cut short due to the nationwide lockdown (Central Coast were in poll position in both competitions). A big thank you to the Junior Management Board for their help and direction of Junior Rugby in 2021, in-particular Andrew Gemmell for all of his work in and behind the scenes. Gavin Flint was awarded the Presidents Trophy for his contribution towards Junior Rugby in 2021.

Secondary School Rugby kicked off with their Annual 10’s Tournament in Te Aroha. Yet again, it was a fantastic showcase of the talent we have in our area at Secondary School level, and it provided a number of outstanding matches – congratulations must go to visiting teams Katikati College winning both the Year 9/10 and Open Boys competitions, whilst Putaruru College won the Year 11/12 and Girls sections.  The start of Term 2 meant the beginning of the Year 9/10, Emerging XV (new competition) and 1st XV competitions in the boys, whilst the Secondary School Girls grade ran alongside. All competitions were competitive throughout the course of the season, which was evident at Finals Day in Ngatea and delivered a fantastic festival of rugby and five cracking finals for the thousands of spectators that attended. Paeroa College were too strong in the Year 9/10 Final beating Hauraki Plains College, Thames High School defined the odds and beat the unbeaten Te Aroha College in the final of the Emerging XV Competition, and Paeroa College polished off their undefeated streak in 2021, beating a gutsy Mercury Bay Area School in Extra Time to win the Coulter Cup. Mercury Bay Area School continued their dominance in the Secondary School Girls competition, beating Hauraki Plains College in their Final.

Club Rugby trialled a new format, with a shortened season and new finals series in action. Its fair to say this created a few different opinions, however it didn’t affect the quality of rugby as we witnessed a high skill level from all teams in a very competitive Senior A competition. There were a number of upsets that kept the competition interesting such as Whangamata beating the eventual winners Mercury Bay and Waihi Athletic beating semi-finalists Waihou. Cobras won the Silcock Shield beating Thames 33-23 in the final of the first round. With all teams making the Quarter Finals in the second round, this made qualification for the Top 4 important, as home advantage would be hugely important in finals footy. Thames easily dispatched Paeroa, Mercury Bay scraped past a good Waihi, Cobras fended off Hauraki North and Waihou completed a stunning comeback to beat Whangamata. This meant for two interesting Semi Finals matches, with Thames beating a physical and nuggety Waihou and Mercury Bay rolling Cobras.

Finals Day was the wettest in recent history, but it didn’t stop the huge number of spectators attending. The McDonald Cup (Senior B Plate) Final kicked off proceedings with Cobras beating Waihou 27-15. Following this, the Lawrence Memorial (Senior B Final) provided a cliff hanger, with the score been close throughout the course of the match. Thames were too clinical in the end, beating the favoured Coromandel 8-7 in front of their large group of supporters. Finally, the much-anticipated McClinchy Cup kicked off between the powerhouse Thames, and underdogs Mercury Bay who were seeking to win the McClinchy Cup alone for the first time ever. In a match of high quality considering the conditions, Mercury Bay dominated for long periods of time, built pressure through good ball retention, and had the superior set piece which was inevitably the difference between the two teams. Mercury Bay were eventual winners 12-10, which was massive for the community, players and management and it certainly showed with the days of celebrations and antics.

The Representative Rugby Calendar was in full swing, with exciting fixtures planned for each of our Under 16 & Under 18 Boys, Secondary School Girls and Emerging XV. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 lockdown, these were modified slightly and matches were rearranged differently to originally scheduled. The Under 16 Boys went without a win, however highlights would have to be an awesome trip to Masterton taking on Wairarapa Bush and playing well in their loss, whilst also hosting Bay of Plenty in Waihi and only just going down 10-12 conceding a last-minute try. Players to stand out for the Under 16s were Jayden Darby, Joseph Frew, Mason Hammond and Millar Morton. The Under 18s were without a doubt our age group team of the year, playing some beautiful rugby under tough circumstances. Beating Ngati Porou East Coast 27-0, and although depleted travelled to Clifton Rugby Club in Tikorangi taking on Taranaki Under 18s. Although a much bigger provincial union, this didn’t affect the Thames Valley Under 18s as they led at halftime, before going down 32-44. Luke Hill, Ihaka Harper-Dent, Kenneth Dumble and Adam Clague were the top performers throughout the campaign. In the Secondary School Girls, this was a year of rebuilding, making connections and getting good match play. Almost knocking over the Easter Sub Union in the Bay of Plenty Te Ohomai Tournament in Rotorua was a highlight, whilst competing well against the Bay of Plenty Wasps showed the huge improvement throughout the season. Although losing all matches, this was not the objective. Alice Hill, Stella McQueen, Emily Kerr and Karly Forsyth were the players to stand out, with Alice Hill later going on to represent the Thames Valley Vixens. The Emerging XV were badly affected by Covid-19. Unfortunately, a large number of players and management were unavailable, games were cancelled and players were promoted to the Swampfoxes. Although losing all three matches, they fought hard and played some attractive rugby in close losses against Waikato Divisional, Whanganui Development and Bay of Plenty U20s respectively. Bring on 2022.

Primary School Rugby was back in full swing in 2021, with a large number of Rippa Rugby Tournaments taking place around the region. With the RDO staff out delivering and promoting to classes every day, each school had the opportunity to play in a local tournament around the region to qualify for Finals Day. Tournaments in Ngatea, Whitianga, Waihi and Te Aroha provided awesome spectacles of skill and game awareness. Finals Day in Paeroa attracted the best 32 teams from around the region, with Waihi Beach Primary School winning the Year 5/6 Competition whilst Mercury Bay Area School won the Year 7/8 Competition. Girls Tackle Rugby attracted Netherton Primary School and Mercury Bay Area School to Tairua Rugby Club. With over 45 girls taking to the field, it was fantastic to see their coaching & development improving, displaying a impressive spectacle of great tackle technique and rugby awareness in the process. An Under 6 Rippa Rugby Tournament in Paeroa must also make the highlights list, with eight teams taking to the field and the Katikati Stags beating Hauraki Plains in the Final. Swampy made his first appearance of the year which was very exciting for the players.

The inaugural Thames Valley Junior Rugby Development Camp took place at Whangamata Rugby & Sports Club in July. 60 children attended over the course of the two days, with tee shirts, food, drink and quality coaching provided. Topics included culture, ruck and breakdown, food & nutrition, scrum and backline attack etc. We look forward to next years modified camps. Yet again a big thank you must go to Matt Rolston, Brendon McKeown, Keegan Pace and Ross Cooper for their assistance over the two days.

Club 7s was the final event on the 2021 calendar, with 7 clubs taking to the field in a very competitive competition. Whangamata were the winners of the Shield Section beating Cobras 20-12, whilst Hauraki North were the big winners of the day going through unbeaten and defeating Waihi Athletic 36-7 in the Cup Final. The Thames Valley Women’s Vixens were also a big feature of the day, taking on Whanganui for the Waihine Toa Shield. Although losing all three matches, it was fantastic to see the development of each and every player, whilst playing a fantastic brand of free-flowing rugby. This will bode well moving forward in 2022 in the women’s space.

The Thames Valley Swampfoxes had yet again a very successful Heartland Championship campaign. Beating Wairarapa Bush, Ngati Porou East Coast, West Coast and Horowhenua Kapiti away from home showed their promise, whilst winning 3 out of 4 home games meant they were always going to near the top of the table. Qualifying 2nd place after Round Robin play, with only the one loss against Whanganui in the final round, this took them down to Timaru to contest the Meads Cup Final against the unbeaten South Canterbury. Unfortunately, as we all know South Canterbury were far to physical and clinical for the Swampfoxes and were well deserved winners of the Meads Cup for 2021. Congratulations goes to Connor McVerry, Te Huia Kutia, Sam Van Der Valk and Tevita Halafihi on their selections to the NZ Heartland XV.

Next year will be a huge year with centenary celebrations in the background.

On behalf of the Thames Valley Rugby Football Union Staff, have a great Christmas and New Year and enjoy your quality time with friends and family. Stay safe and we look forward to seeing you in 2022.