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Heartland Championship preview: semifinals

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Friday, October 19, 2018    Campbell Burnes    Getty Images

In the Meads Cup, six-time champion Wanganui will be the hottest of hot favourite when it hosts the Thames Valley Swamp Foxes at Cooks Gardens.

Wanganui is coming off retaining the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup with a 57-27 win over Horowhenua Kapiti. The two Jasons, Caskey and Hamlin, will be happy at how clinical and efficient their boys were, but they had to work harder than the scoreboard indicated.

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Thames Valley, conversely, could not quite do enough to book an historic home Meads Cup semifinal, falling 33-24 to South Canterbury in Timaru. But the Swamp Foxes have some X-factor this season, through the likes of fullback Harry Lafituanai, who scored a sparkling solo try last weekend.

South Canterbury centurion Matt Fetu wears the No 1 jersey, switching from hooker, in the semifinal against King Country. The home side, 2013 Lochore Cup champion, has never won the Meads Cup, so the incentive to reach the decider will be palpable. But the Rams showed joy unconfined at their 31-29 win over Mid Canterbury. They will contest, for the first time, the Meads Cup, a trophy very close to their heart.

Some of the Rams’ play in the victory last weekend was full of charisma, from centre Alex Thrupp’s solo try to Rob Sherson’s popular score, to an 8-9-12 scrum move that yielded the maximum.

Barry Matthews’ men should be on high alert.
A victory in the Lochore Cup semifinal against Mid Canterbury in Levin would make for a very tasty 125th anniversary cake for Horowhenua Kapiti, but coach Chris Wilton will want to see more defensive resilience than was shown in the loss to Wanganui.

The Hammers lost 31-29 to King Country, meaning they placed eighth. But the tactic will surely be getting ball in space to flying Zimbabwe-born wing Brian Matoramusha, who has pace to burn.

Victory for the home side will see it host a second straight final, if for different silverware, after making the 2017 Meads Cup decider.

The Old Golds of North Otago must have been reading this preview last week. On the cusp of missing the playoffs for the first time since 1999, they uncorked a good allround display to blank Wairarapa-Bush 24-0 in Masterton. No 10 Paul Tupai scored a bullocking try.

Funnily enough, both teams meet again at the same venue seven days later. Expect the unexpected on the artificial turf.


The match-ups:

Meads Cup semifinals
Wanganui v Thames Valley

Saturday October 20, 2.30pm at Cooks Gardens, Wanganui
Referee: Richard Kelly (Taranaki)
Played: 34 (1923-2017)
Wins: Wanganui 28, Thames Valley 6
Last match: Wanganui 21 Thames Valley 19 (September 2, 2017)

South Canterbury v King Country
Saturday October 20, 2.30pm at Alpine Energy Stadium, Timaru
Referee: Nick Webster (South Canterbury)
Played: 14 (1987-2017)
Wins: South Canterbury 8, King Country 6
Last match: South Canterbury 42 King Country 36 (September 2, 2017)


Lochore Cup semifinals
Horowhenua Kapiti v Mid Canterbury

Saturday October 20, 1.30pm at Levin Domain, Levin
Referee: Cam Stone (Taranaki)
Played: 22 (1958-2018)
Wins: Mid Canterbury 17, Horowhenua Kapiti 5
Last match: Mid Canterbury 30 Horowhenua Kapiti 24 (August 25, 2018)

Wairarapa-Bush v North Otago
Saturday October 20, 1pm at Trust House Memorial Park, Masterton
Referee: Hugh Reed (Hawke’s Bay)
Played: 19 (1972-2018)
Wins: North Otago 12, Wairarapa-Bush 7
Last match: North Otago 24 Wairarapa-Bush 0 (October 13, 2018)