A mighty clash
By Jack Biddle
Thames Valley record a nail biting 26 – 21 win over North Otago in Bunnings Heartland Rugby Championship
Mercury Bay Rugby Club Chairman, Wayne Smith predicted earlier in the week that the upcoming Bunnings Heartland Championship game between the Thames Valley Swamp Foxes and North Otago was going to be ‘a good day for the town and a good rugby clash.’
Often hopeful predictions never quite deliver, but in this case, last Saturday’s game exceeded all expectations. A bumper crowd of over 2,500 packed into Lyon Park to support the efforts of the local club in hosting the game between two of the top teams in the Heartland competition. The 12-team competition is largely based in towns and rural areas of the country with Whitianga hosting a Thames Valley representative game for the first time in its history. With a last-minute change of venue to Lyon Park, renamed the ‘Lyons Den’ for the day, the crowd was provided a great location with a picture perfect backdrop on display. It’s what makes our piece of paradise so special.
Adding further interest for locals was the fact that the Thames Valley side, which started the day sitting in third place on the competition ladder, had three Mercury Bay players in their squad; highly rated skipper, Connor McVerry, along with Trinity McQueen and Cody Muir.
Both teams went into the game having posted big wins in the previous week, with an opportunity to bank valuable points and widen the gap between the teams sitting lower on the points table. For the Swamp Foxes, it was also an opportunity to apply pressure on Whanganui who were sitting one rung further up the ladder in second place.
Thames Valley started the match strongly, taking full advantage of the strong wind on their backs to keep North Otago pinned down in their own half for long periods, courtesy of the boot of influential play maker, Todd Doolan. After 35 minutes, the Swamp Foxes were ahead 12 nil with tries going to Tayne Tupae and Cameron Drogool with Todd Doolan adding a conversion. North Otago was able to reduce the deficit right on half time with a try and conversion to winger, Ben McCarthy and headed into the sheds knowing they had the wind advantage in the second forty.
North Otago did indeed apply the pressure when play resumed, but came up against some outstanding defence from the Thames Valley side. Against the run of play, it was the Swamp Foxes who nudged the score board further in their favour with a try to Sam McCahon with the ever-reliable Todd Doolan slotting the conversion. The game looked all over in the 53rd minute when Sam McCahon once again crossed the line and Doolan adding the extras after a breakdown in play by what was becoming a very frustrated North Otago team.
It seemed game over at 10 minutes to play with Thames Valley ahead 26 – 7, but North Otago never got the message and with quality play and possession finally going their way, they managed to score two quick converted tries in the space of a couple of minutes, closing the gap to within five points and leaving the crowd and players on tender hooks with only minutes of game time remaining. At the final whistle, it was a much relieved Thames Valley side prevailing 26 – 21, in what was a game that ended up going down to the wire.
Captain Conner McVerry was full of praise for his team’s efforts after the game. “While our attack was very good it was our defence that won us the game. It’s our strength as a team; we work hard and pride ourselves on our high work rate. We knew, with the wind in their favour, North Otago were always going to make the second half difficult for us but their mistakes and frustrations were often the result of our strong defence. This result gives us huge confidence as we head towards the semi-finals. A big thank you must go out to the Mercury Bay club and all the volunteers who made this day possible and ato the North Otago team and officials for helping make it happen. Hopefully it’s not the last time Whitianga gets to host a provincial game of footy.”
Can’t disagree with that.
Thames Valley 26 (Tayne Tupaea, Cameron Dromgool, Sam McCahon 2 tries; Todd Doolan 3 con) North Otago 21 (Ratu Logavatu, Ben McCarthy, Hayden Tisdall tries; McCarthy 3 con). HT: 12-7
Curtain raiser - Under 18s - Thames Valley v Northland Vikings The young Northland team was quick to show their intentions with a very spirited and vocal haka prior to kick off. While their overall skill set was a level above an honest and courageous Thames Valley side, the Vikings continually pushed the patience of the match officials to the limit at times with their physicality and ill-discipline, resulting in one player being sent off 10 minutes into the second half and another given a yellow card with 12 minutes remaining.
Overall, the Vikings made better use of a strong southerly wind in both halves of the game and while their forward pack contained some very strong young men, it was the backs that were the standouts and crowd pleasers on the day, showcasing some exceptional and entertaining rugby at times. Winger, Kiwi Duncan, along with mid-fielders, Toby Bell and Nathan Selman, always looked dangerous with ball in hand and are names to watch out for in the future. The Northland side still managed to contain a somewhat resurgent Thames Valley team in the closing stages, and closed out the match with a try in the last few minutes. Thames Valley Captain, Korbin Chwesik, lead his team well and halfback Quyn Stowers and number 10, Max Baker showed glimpses of their abilities particularly in the early stages of the game. The team’s hard work was rewarded by a try to replacement winger, Jamie Stevenson with 15 minutes remaining and Max Baker nailing the side-line conversion.
The Teams Valley under-18 team ended their representative campaign for the year with this resounding 38 - 7 loss to a very strong and skilful Northland Vikings side.
Northland Vikings 38 (Nathan Salmon, T Phillips, Tony Donnelly, Cameron Ackers tries, Kiwi Duncan 2 tries; Tony Donnelly 4 conversions). Thames Valley 7 (Jamie Stevenson try; Max Baker 1 conversion).