Centre Ueta Tufuga beats the Wellington Samoan defence. PHOTOS/FILE

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Semifinals have been scrapped in a revamped Heartland Championship, which will kick off in 9 days.

The championship was planned to start on August 21, but the onset of covid-19 level 4 restrictions forced the postponement of all community rugby throughout New Zealand.

With the move to level 2, the Heartland season start on September 18, with Farriers Wairarapa-Bush to host Thames Valley.

The championship will now finish with the finals on the weekend of November 13-14.

That’s a week shorter than a normal Heartland competition with the semifinals being canned.

The finals will be played based on finishing positions after the round-robin regular season.

The top two teams will contest the Meads Cup, and the third- and fourth-placed sides will contest the Lochore Cup. NZ Rugby are considering options for a trophy for the fifth- and
sixth-placed finishers.

Coach Mark Rutene, left, and assistant coach Brent Wilson.

Wai-Bush coach Mark Rutene welcomed the changes, saying the format was the best expected given the time frame.

“It’s good that we’re having a full round. If you leave it too long into November, the guys have other commitments and it’s not too long to Christmas,” Rutene said.

“They [NZR] had to make a call somewhere, and if you want to win, you have to beat everybody in the round and hopefully be in the top two.”

The change does mean a trickier start for Wai-Bush, with 2018 Meads Cup champions Thames Valley first-up, followed by away trips to 2019 Lochore Cup champions South Canterbury and six-time Meads Cup champions, Whanganui.

“On paper, it probably is a tougher start with those three first up, but it is what it is and everybody is in the same sort of boat.

“The enthusiasm is still there and everybody just wants to get into it,” Rutene said.

Wai-Bush’s final preseason outing before the lockdown was a 34-20 victory over Wellington Samoans.

Rutene said the players followed fitness regimes over the three weeks of level 4 and level 3 restrictions and posted videos on the team’s Facebook page. The team will resume training tonight and have another session on Saturday.

One player unlikely to play in the season is experienced lock Peter Beech, who has struggled with a back injury for much of the season.

Wai-Bush chief executive Tony Hargood is thrilled that the Heartland Championship will finally get under way, even if the early games were likely to be played with no crowds because of covid-19 level 2 restricting outdoor gatherings to 100 people.

Hargood said Wai-Bush would livestream the Thames Valley match for their fans.

The future of the Wai-Bush Under-16, Under-18, and Wai-Bush Maori programmes will be confirmed next week, along with the finals in the Under-13, Under-15, and College First XV competitions.

Wairarapa-Bush’s Likely Draw:

September 18 – Thames Valley, Masterton.

September 25 – South Canterbury, Timaru.

October 2 – Whanganui, Whanganui.

October 9 – Mid Canterbury, Masterton.

October 16 – West Coast, Masterton.

October 23 – King Country, Te Kuiti.

October 30 – Horowhenua-Kapiti, Levin.

November 6 – East Coast, Masterton.

November 13-14 – Finals.



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