Sunday, 16 December 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Mercury Bay proudly represented in Heartland Championship final

By Jack Biddle

The Thames Valley Rugby Union had plenty to celebrate in 2018 with their premier side, known as the Swampfoxes, pulling off a remarkable and unexpected come-from-behind 17 - 12 away win over South Canterbury to clinch the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship on Saturday 27 October.

In doing so, the team not only became the holders of the prestigious Meads Cup - which was presented to them by the great Colin Meads’s daughter, Rhonda - they also became the envy of all those playing in the grassroots national rugby competition across New Zealand.

To make the moment even more special, it was the Swampfoxes’ first appearance in any Heartland Championship final and their first national title success since winning the old NPC Division Three Championship way back in 1995.

Mercury Bay can proudly lay claim to being represented in the championship-winning side. In the hard working Swampfoxes forward pack was former Mercury Bay Rugby & Sports Club senior player Connor McVerry.  

For local rugby enthusiasts 23-year-old Connor is no stranger to the local rugby scene. He started his rugby playing days with the Mercury Bay Rugby & Sports Club at age 10 and worked his way through the grades before progressing onto playing First XV rugby at Mercury Bay Area School.

Rugby hasn’t been Connor’s only commitment to the Mercury Bay area either. Many summers have been enjoyed over the years along with his three older sisters as part of the Hot Water Beach Life Saving Club. 

After school, Connor moved away for a short spell and played rugby for the Pukekohe Under 19 team before heading back to Whitianga where he completed an electrician apprenticeship and spent four seasons playing senior rugby.

This year saw a move to Hamilton where Connor played rugby for Fraser Tech RFC, a club which falls under the wider umbrella of the Waikato Rugby Union.      

Connor has had an association with the Swampfoxes since 2016, which he was able to continue this year due to a Heartland Championship rule which allows for one “Player of Origin” to be drafted into a provincial side outside of their current home region. To date, Connor has notched up a very respectable 25 games in total for the Swampfoxes as either lock or flanker. No surprises then when he rates Richie McCaw and Brodie Retallick as the past and current All Blacks he’s looking up to.

Connor’s other inspiration comes from his father, Ted, the manager of Carters in Moewi Road, Whitianga. Ted is heavily involved in the Mercury Bay Rugby & Sports Club, including managing the premier team. In his senior playing days, he turned out for the Eastern club in Northland.

A former sheep shearer, Ted is no stranger to a disciplined lifestyle and hard work, a characteristic which has rubbed off on Connor.

But the admiration cuts both ways. “If I get to be a 100 years old, I will never forget that day in Timaru a few weeks ago when Thames Valley won the Heartland Championship,” says Ted. “Not just because my son was playing, but mainly because of the way the team played. They weren’t a team of champions but through self-belief, hard work and good coaching, they became a champion team.

“They were given the tag of underdog all season, but never stopped believing that if they made the final they would give themselves an even chance of winning. Yes, I’m a very proud dad, but win or lose it was the way the team played that made them a champion side regardless.”   

Connor agrees with Ted, saying the Swampfoxes’ success came down to the culture that the coaching staff installed into the team. “Nobody in the team was bigger or more important than anyone else plus coaches can only do so much,” says Connor. “As players we were taught to believe we could win even after being down at halftime. I’m sure I speak on behalf of all the players when I say our head coach, Mathew Bartlett, along with his assistants, David Harrison and Joe Murray, did a great job of bringing the best out of every player in the squad.”

Like all good sportsmen Connor is quick to move on and look for the next challenge. He will soon head off to Belgium to play a season in their national rugby competition. “I’m really looking forward to playing in another country and experiencing another culture,” he says.

From a young boy starting out in the junior rugby grades, Connor has certainly given Mercury Bay much to be proud of.

The Heartland Championship is proof that our national game is still very strong across New Zealand and success is not just measured by the men and women in the black jersey. You only have to look at the big smile on Ted’s face.    

Pictured is Connor McVerry with his father Ted immediately after the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship rugby final between the Thames Valley Swampfoxes and South Canterbury in Timaru on Saturday 27 October.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.