Rugby: Rams favourites for Lochore Cup final

By Campbell Burnes

The Rams enter as favourites by virtue of the fact they are defending Lochore Cup champions. Photo / Getty Images.
The Rams enter as favourites by virtue of the fact they are defending Lochore Cup champions. Photo / Getty Images.

There is just one certain outcome for tomorrow's Lochore Cup final in Te Kuiti.

The final scoreline will not read 4-4 (under the points trial) as it was for the regular season clash between the same teams at the same ground. Extra time will be used to break any fulltime stalemate.

The Rams enter as favourites by virtue of the fact they are defending Lochore Cup champions, and were the sixth placed qualifiers, as opposed to North Otago, who just scraped into the second tier silverware round in eighth position.

But the Old Golds turned it on in Ashburton for the semifinal, defeating Mid Canterbury 36-24, a rare win - their first there in a decade - at the home of the Hammers.

North Otago has some solid pedigree in the Heartland Championship, annexing the Lochore Cup in 2009 and the Meads Cup in 2007 and 2010. They have always punched above their weight.

King Country also once punched above their weight, playing NPC division one rugby from 1992-96 before falling on less productive times. The Rams, coached by Daniel Alofa, and with four players named in the Heartland XV, will be buoyed by their 48-26 semifinal win over Poverty Bay in Taupo. The pack has some wise heads such as centurion and skipper Aarin Dunster, plus prop Carl Carmichael and locks Anthony Wise and Gene Waller.

In the backline, there is some raw firepower in the form of second John Koko, who scored an eye-catching try against Poverty Bay, while fullback James Hemara, and goalkicking halfback Zayn Tipping all offer skills and guile. The Rams' best try of the semifinal went to wing Dean Church off a sterling break by first five Whakataki Cunningham.

The Old Golds will look to their Heartland XV players, the seasoned captain and prop Ralph Darling and second five Lemi Masoe, to lead them to a second Lochore Cup crown.

It is not known whether King Country's favourite Sir Colin Meads, battling cancer, will be at Rugby Park tomorrow, but he has made an appearance at the Rams' two Te Kuiti home games this season.

*The Meads Cup final sees hot favourites, defending champs and unbeaten Wanganui hosting the popular underdogs Buller.

Wanganui have a well-balanced group, and the Butcher Boys sliced up Wairarapa-Bush 58-26 in the semifinal, their dynamic midfield of Craig Clare and Blake Hohaia providing ample opportunities for their outsides. Wanganui, led by the indefatigable flanker Peter Rowe, are gunning for their fifth Meads Cup title since 2008.

Standing in their way is the season's success story, Buller, a tiny union with just four senior clubs but, whom, under the astute decade-long coaching of the two Craigs - Scanlon and Neill - edged South Canterbury 16-6 with a staunch defensive display in last weekend's semifinal in Timaru. They can call on a vastly experienced forward pack led by tireless flanker Luke Brownlee and prop Phil Beveridge, pushing 43 and still doing the business.

The halves Andrew Stephens and James Lash pull the strings and they have pace outside them in the form of Setefano Sauqaqa and Peni Nabainivalu. Kickoff is at 4.35pm tomorrow.

Lochore Cup final
King Country v North Otago
Rugby Park, Te Kuiti
Saturday, 1.35pm

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 22 Jan 2017 17:05:16 Processing Time: 630ms