Town v Country next on programme
Now the club competitions are completed, Whanganui rugby interest switches to the coming Heartland representative season. The month-long build-up programme starts with a traditional Town v Country fixture, this time at Taihape’s Memorial Park on Saturday. The 2021 Steelform Whanganui selectors – Marty McGrath and coaches Jason Caskey and Jason Hamlin - have included 32 representatives in their 61 trialists. So far they have included one loan player – Te Kawau’s mid-field back Kameli Kuruyabaki, who repped 17 times for Whanganui in 2016-18 while playing for Kaierau and then Taihape – amongst the trialists. Depending on form shown this weekend, other loan or players of origin could be added to boost key positions in the Heartland squad. The 32 ex-reps, 15 backs and 17 forwards, have had a total of 513 appearances for the Butcher Boys. The most-capped players are Border half-back Lindsay Horrocks with 73, Ruapehu front rower Roman Tutauha 72, Marist prop Viki Tofa 45 and current rep skipper Campbell Hart, a Ruapehu loose forward with 37 games for the union. Missing from the trial game are two key backs from the champion Border team – winger Vereniki Tikoisolomone, who has scored 23 tries this club season but is playing first division for Taranaki in the Bunnings Warehouse national league this season, and goal-kicking first five Craig Clare who has repped 31 times locally but has yet to decide whether or not to play Heartland rugby this year. Other 2020 reps missing from the Taihape fixture are backs Cody Hemi (Ra¯tana last year) and Logan Henry (Kaierau in 2020) and forwards Dylan Gallien (not available this weekend) and fellow Taihape rep Wiremu Cottrell (left district), Jamie Hughes (Ruapehu – injured), Patrick O’Leary (Marist) and Kamipeli Latu (Border – left district). In the named squads Kaierau provides 13 players, Taihape 11, Border 10, Marist eight, Ratana six, Ruapehu five, Ngamatapouri four, Utiku OB two and Hunterville one. The Ngamatapouri pair of winger Joeli Raucau and lock Joeli Tora are playing in Fijian trials this weekend, with forwards Jamie Hughes and Jack Kinder (Ruapehu), Regan Collier (Taihape) and Brad Graham (Marist) unavailable for the trial. Marist, Ngamatapouri and Ratana provide players to both squads. Country on top After a break of a year because of Covid-19 in 2020, the Town v Country trial match returns on Saturday with Country seeking a fourth victory since 2015, this time in Taihape. The sole success for Town was 10-7 at Cooks Gardens in 2018 when Junior Ainea (Pirates) and Desmond Tyrell (Metro Colts) scored tries in a low scoring match in reply to a try from Mikaere Penetito (Ra¯tana) and conversion by Mitchell Miller (Ruapehu). The score was in contrast to tons of action in 2017 (48-40 to Country at Spriggens Park) when Ruapehu loosie Jamie Hughes scored three of his side’s eight tries, Town managing six tries, two of them by Marek Willis (Marist). Highest scoring trial was at Kaierau in 2016 with 18 tries scored, Hughes collecting a brace of Country’s 11 tries in a team coached by Andrew Evans. It is perhaps fortunate for Town this weekend that Hughes will be missing because of injury. Hunterville hosted the 2015 trial which Country won 36-26, heading off Town by six tries to four. The last trial game(s) were at Cooks Gardens two seasons ago, with a series of three 40 minute fixtures which a combined Rangit¯ıkeiCountry won by beating Metropolitan 28-0 and drawing 12-all with Northern Wanganui, Metro beating Northern 12-0 in the third game. Quite a few of the points scorers (tries and goal kickers) from the 2019 matches, including Tom Symes (Border), Tyler Rogers-Holden and Dane Whale (Taihape), Kahl Elers-Green (Ruapehu) and Ethan Robinson (Kaierau), are playing this weekend. Memorable finals day The top qualifiers duly claimed the 2021 Tasman Tanning Whanganui club titles last weekend but both Hunterville seniors and Border premiers were fully tested in very wet conditions at Cooks Gardens. Kelso Hunterville chalked up a ninth senior championship since 2007, deservedly de-throning Harvey Round Motors Ra¯tana 8-6 on a wet field after collecting the only try of the match in the lowest scoring final since Ruapehu beat Marist 8-3 in 2006. There was good vocal spectator support for both teams but the slippery surface made ball handling difficult. On the strength of scoring the sole try and enjoying a slight overall territorial advantage, Hunterville was able to topple the defending champions with fullback Nick Tipling claiming the WRFU Player of the Day award. Came the premier showdown and title-holders Waverley Harvesting Border held off determined Wanganui Car Centre Kaierau 23-18 with the two sides encountering 20 minutes of the wildest weather ever encountered in a local championship final. For a ninth time since the unionwide competitions started in 1978, Border has become the latest squad to complete back-to-back title success but it was a hard slog midway through an enthralling match when fierce driving rain squalls swept down the ground. There was the distinct possibility that the final could be called off because of the gale force wind, rain and fading light before the ground floodlights were switched on. Kaierau, down 17-3 at one stage, improved to trail 12-17 at half-time and then played intelligent wet weather rugby into the energy sapping elements in the second spell which was shared 6-all. For the second week in a row Kaierau goal-kicker Ethan Robinson scored all of his team’s points – this time six penalties to add to his 17 in the semi-final upset victory over Northern Wanganui champions Byford’s Readi-Mix Taihape. Although it was accurate kicking that kept his team within striking distance of upsetting Border, top marks must go to, especially, the Kaierau forwards for helping force Border to concede so many penalties. But it still took great goal-kicking skills by Robinson in ultra-difficult conditions to enable the city side to keep within striking distance of a potentially dangerous marauding Border team. Border first five Craig Clare claimed his third local championship title by kicking 13 points and also won the Player of the Day award although Robinson, despite being in the beaten side, must have run him close. Despite the often atrocious weather, it was an enjoyable final day of rugby with the closeness of both games entertaining the remarkably large crowd which huddled into the protection of the covered stands and corporate boxes.