Whanganui’s Doug Horrocks.
As with the All Blacks selectors, there will be quite a few frowns on the faces of the Whanganui Butcher Boys’ rugby hierarchy after the very disappointing effort in defence of the Sir Colin Meads Memorial Pinetree Log in Taumarunui at the weekend.
Congratulations to the King Country Rams for knuckling down and winning a closely-contested Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship game 23-16, against most pre-match predictions.
Perhaps the pundits had overlooked that there was live televised coverage of two of the top-four Meads Cup teams from last season.
It was a fixture the Steelform Whanganui team were expected to win, and with a bonus point. Now, with difficult opposition still ahead over the coming five weeks of qualifying fixtures, reaching the Meads Cup playoffs will be so much harder.
On current form, it could even be a struggle to be competitive in the Lochore Cup second division unless the results improve, because even coach Jason Hamlin freely admits the squad is “flat”.
Quite a few of the players are certainly not performing up to their true ability, even allowing for a few injuries and the dismal weather – which affects all teams.
We reach the halfway stage in the two months of qualifying games this coming Saturday and with just seven points from three fixtures so far, this is the equal-poorest effort, along with 2019, over the past nine years.
Back in 2014, Whanganui managed to win just three of eight qualifying fixtures – 20-15 v North Otago, 44-7 v East Coast and 37-6 v King Country, all at Cooks Gardens.
The Butcher Boys then travelled away to beat the Rams 37-6 in the Lochore semifinals at Te Kūiti, a week after being pipped 29-30 here by the same team, and went to Oamaru to win the final.
Whanganui qualified second behind unbeaten defending champions South Canterbury, 39 points to 36 (the maximum is 40) in the Meads Cup last season.
South Canterbury, endeavouring to join Whanganui (2015-16-17) as the only three-peat Meads champions, and 2018 winners Thames Valley, are the only unbeaten teams so far this year.
The Timaru squad has 14 points after home wins over Horowhenua-Kapiti (40-14) and Buller (50-0) and 45-21 v King Country in Taupo while the Swamp Foxes have beaten the Butchers 36-33 here, Poverty Bay 24-17 at Te Aroha and West Coast 30-22 in Greymouth.
With Thames Valley beating Whanganui by six points and West Coast by eight, it should make for a very close tussle between the “West Coast” sides from each island when they meet at Cooks Gardens on Saturday.
This is the first time they will have played here since 2019 and is their 12th Heartland meeting, Whanganui having won eight times at an average score of 42-16, including 36-18 four years ago.
With the Butcher Boys flying off to North Otago on Saturday week, there will also be local interest in the outcome of this weekend’s short South Canterbury trip to meet neighbours North Otago in Ōamaru.
After losing the Pinetree Log to King Country, Whanganui will be watching how Horowhenua-Kāpiti, currently winless along with Buller, fare in hosting Wairarapa-Bush on Saturday.