Just how much winning on the road will be vital to success in this year’s Pink Batts Heartland Championship was made abundantly clear as only one visiting team gained competition points amongst a number of surprise results on Saturday.
Thames Valley came back from 14-6 down in Levin to draw with Horowhenua-Kapiti 19-19, but that was as close as any away team came to victory.
Wairarapa Bush had been installed as second favourites by the TAB for the Meads Cup final, but ill-discipline and a great performance with the boot by King Country’s Whakataki Cunningham combined to sink them 32-13 in Taupo.
The hosts were awarded a penalty try amongst their two five-pointers, with Cunningham converting both and adding six penalties.
A 20-point haul would ordinarily be enough to sit atop the points-scorers table, but Poverty Bay’s Moss Doran would go two better as his team hammered East Coast 52-12 in Gisborne.
East Coast have fallen well off the pace since their 2012 Meads Cup with the departure of some key imports, and Saturday’s result was not a promising sign as Poverty Bay’s Murray Hewson scored two of their seven tries while Doran also scored, plus adding four conversions and three penalties.
Buller pulled the biggest boilover, as two second half penalties saw them lift clear of North Otago 17-9 in Westport.
But if any team signalled ominous tones for 2014, it was the defending Meads Cup champions Mid-Canterbury, who came from behind against their 2013 semifinal opponents West Coast to hammer them 52-27 in Ashburton.
Last October, West Coast had nearly beaten Mid-Canterbury before losing 28-25. But after a dominant pre-season, which saw them give Ranfurly Shield-holders Counties Manukau a decent workout then shock fellow ITM Cup team Southland with an upset win, Mid-Canterbury look the goods as Dwayne Burrows scored a hat trick and Setariki Koroitamana added a double.
By Rugby By Jared Smith- WANGANUI CHRONICLE