The semifinalists have been found in the Heartland Championship.
Defending champions Mid Canterbury’s 24-7 win over South Canterbury secured them a spot in the top four playoffs for the Meads Cup. But it was not the only crucial game in deciding the eight teams that would advance to the playoffs.
Buller survived a real scare against Wairarapa Bush. After trailing by more than 30 points Wairarapa came back to get in front before Buller bounced back to win 49-36 and keep their unbeaten record intact.
Centre Iliesa Ravudra was a stand-out, scoring four tries. The country’s smallest union has been the real surprise package this year and will host fourth-placed Horowhenua-Kapiti, after they fought out a 13-13 draw with Poverty Bay in Gisborne.
That result left Poverty Bay second on the table but points differential was used to separate Mid Canterbury and Horowhenua-Kapiti for third and fourth.
Mid Canterbury’s was far superior so they will travel to Gisborne for one Meads Cup semifinal, while Horowhenua-Kapiti will wind their way down to Westport to face the table-toppers.
King Country finished top of the Lochore Cup seedings, for sides finishing fifth to eighth.
The men from Colin Meads country leapfrogged South Canterbury to take the top seeding with a nail-biting 30-29 win over Wanganui in Te Kuiti.
Wanganui’s two bonus points in their loss saved their blushes and meant they sneaked into the eight ahead of Thames Valley on points differential.
Thames Valley suffered a surprise loss to West Coast 27-22 in Greymouth, as the Coasters grabbed only their second win of the championship.
That means Wanganui will travel to Te Kuiti in a replay of Saturday’s match in one Lochore Cup semifinal, while South Canterbury, who led the championship for the first three weeks, will host North Otago in Timaru.
North Otago thrashed East Coast 45-5 and gained a bonus point to sneak into the seventh place.
Those results mean the season is over for Thames Valley, West Coast, Wairarapa Bush and winless East Coast.
The closeness and topsy-turvy nature of the Heartland Championship was highlighted when only one of the TAB’s pre-season favoured four made it through to the Meads Cup, and that was Mid Canterbury.
They had to wait until the eighth and final round to do it, while Horowhenua-Kapiti started at $40 outsiders but are right in the mix.
In Timaru the pressure was on Mid Canterbury coach Glenn Moore for his side to deliver as he departs shortly to join John Kirwan at the Blues.
Had South Canterbury sneaked a win they would have not made the top four but in the end it was academic as they played the better rugby when it mattered most.
Moore was happy with his win and wasn’t worried who his side would face.
“We are in with a good chance so we don’t care.”
Buller co-coach Craig Scanlon was in a similar frame of mind. “We have to focus on what we do. Whoever gets into the top four deserves it and it will be tough now as it is knockout footy.”
Buller have amassed some pretty impressive statistics for a union with only five senior sides.
They ended the regular season with 37 from a possible 40 points, running in 38 tries and scoring 282 points in eight games, at an average of 35. Fairfax NZ
STU PIDDINGTON – The Timaru Herald