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Wai-Bush destiny in own hands

Six rounds into the Heartland Championship and with two rounds to play, Copthorne Wairarapa-Bush are sitting sixth, nicely placed to earn a home semifinal in the Lochore Cup.

But how well positioned are they to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot with two tough games remaining, firstly at home to Whanganui on Saturday, followed by an away trip to Ashburton to tackle Mid Canterbury?

Wai-Bush’s current points haul of 17 from three wins plus five bonus points could even be enough. Since the current format came into place in 2011, the lowest points tally needed to scrape into eighth has been 17, and that has occurred on four occasions. Three wins, along with the various bonus points, have been sufficient seven times.

On the face of it, that could be good enough to make the Lochore Cup semifinals, but a Meads Cup semifinal for finishing in the top four still remains a remote prospect.

The cut-off for the top four is generally within the 25–30 point region, with five wins the minimum. In 2016, Wai-Bush needed 30 points to finish fourth, whereas in 2021, 25 points was sufficient for North Otago to make the top four.

If Wai-Bush can win their final two games [a tough ask going on their current run of inconsistent form], coach Reece Robinson’s target of a Meads Cup semifinal could come to fruition.

Realistically, though, after another frustrating away loss, this time 27–20 to the previous winless Buller, the Lochore Cup looks like a more achievable target. Even Robinson alluded to that in his post-match comments, saying, “I feel we’re definitely a top-four team, but after the weekend, we have to reassess our goals.”

So, based on that assumption, what must Wai-Bush do to secure a top-eight place, or preferably a fifth or sixth finish to host a Lochore Cup semifinal?

Win one of their remaining two games, starting with Whanganui at Trust House Memorial Park on Saturday. That is a tricky proposition with the six-time Meads Cup champions and five-time runners-up starting to hit their straps after two early losses.

Whanganui has had the better on the head-to-head, winning eight of the last 10 clashes in the Heartland Championship, but Wai-Bush have won two of the four played in Masterton, the last time, a 28-18 triumph in 2019.

A home team victory would secure a playoff spot; however, a loss could mean a do-or-die battle against Mid Canterbury and the potential of relying on the results of other teams, so let’s look at their respective run-ins.

Mid Canterbury [13 points] would probably need to beat bitter rivals and two-time defending Meads Cup champions South Canterbury, who are on a 27-match unbeaten run, in Timaru to stay in the chase, but one or two bonus points could keep them alive.

Fifth-placed North Otago [17 points] host second-placed Thames Valley and finish away to West Coast [seventh on 16 points], who play neighbours and tailenders Buller in Christchurch on Saturday. The Coasters arguably have the best finish, with their last game away to King Country.

King Country and Horowhenua-Kapiti [both 11 points], and Poverty Bay [10 points] remain outside possibilities and would likely require two wins, but all three face games against teams in the top four. Saturday’s clash between Horowhenua-Kapiti and Poverty Bay at Levin will be crucial for their prospects, although final-round clashes against Whanganui and South Canterbury, respectively, could ultimately decide their fates.

Then there are the dreaded bonus points for losing and for scoring four tries, to add more confusion to the conundrum.

So how well-placed are Wai-Bush?

Their destiny is in their own hands, but they cannot afford sluggish efforts like those against Horowhenua-Kapiti [lost 24–19] and Buller; otherwise, it could be three years of being also-rans.

This team is better than that. The Meads Cup may be a bridge too far, but the Lochore Cup, named in honour of our All Blacks great Sir BJ, and home playoffs are a realistic prospect, and what better way to recognise Wai-Bush’s favourite son than lifting the trophy at his beloved Memorial Park.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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