Today, the Wanganui Heartland team will take on the might of Mitre 10 Cup side Taranaki in a Ranfurly Shield challenge.

I was unsure just how many times Wanganui has challenged for the shield but noted local rugby correspondent and historian JB Philips has enlightened us.

Although Wanganui has never lifted the "log of wood" off any incumbent, they have come close on occasions, as JB recounted in the epic 1963 and 1964 challenges against our westerly neighbours in this week's edition of Midweek.

The Wanganui players should be well-prepared, if the local Tasman Tanning Premier competition and finals day rugby are anything to go by.

Advertisement

The standard of rugby on display at Cooks Gardens two weeks ago was a credit to the four teams vying for the Premier and Senior titles.

Congratulations to McCarthy's Transport Ruapehu and Kelso Hunterville who took home the respective trophies.

From a refereeing perspective, all finals games seemed to have been relatively free of controversy, always a pleasing result when so much is at stake.

While the clear-cut victories in the two finals probably contributed to this, I would like to think the level of officiating by the referees and assistant referees involved helped as well.

The day seemed like it was going to be pretty much drama-free.

That was until those few referees remaining after the games to ensure all the food and drink thoughtfully provided by the WRFU was gratefully consumed came to depart the building.

By that time, darkness had descended upon the ground and all remaining players and supporters had headed off to wherever their celebrations and commiserations took them.

Along with them went the Cooks Gardens gatekeeper, so that we referees found ourselves locked in under the 'Whiskas' Stand, with no more food and drink to keep us company, while we waited for some time for whoever locked us up to return in response to some desperate phone calls.

Advertisement

There is still a week or two of schools rugby to go this season, as well as a number of age group rep matches and the annual round of sevens, which actually run into the beginning of Term 4 for schools.

The WRFU has run a very good Under 15 competition on Wednesday afternoons for the season.

Teams included the City, Cullinane and Ruapehu colleges, plus a combined Taihape Area School and Rangitikei College squad, as well as two teams from Whanganui High School.

Wanganui Collegiate was not involved as they play in the Manawatu competition, but more of that later.

Last Wednesday saw the finals' games, with WHS defeating Cullinane 43-21 in a fast-paced game, watched by a good crowd of supporters, while City College defeating the Combined side for third place.

One of the interesting observations from being involved in rugby for this age group is about the attitudes of the players.

Teenage rugby has a life of its own and teenagers today seem to have a completely different attitude towards their opposition to what I remember from my playing days.

Good humoured banter, particularly among the forwards at set piece time, seems to be the norm.

To see halfbacks shaking hands regularly before a scrum takes a bit of getting used to after 50 years of seeing them jostle each other in an attempt to disrupt the ball put-in to the scrum.

Part of this attitude probably comes from players knowing each other from primary school days, as well as there being a lot of cousins on the field.

I think the role of social media in these young players' lives probably has something to do with it as well, but referees have to recognise the signs when the banter ceases to be good-natured, given flare-ups can occur in an instant with young players.

I have only seen one or two of the Collegiate Under 15 games, which involve teams from around the Manawatu and Horowhenua, but there seems to be a more serious side to their matches.

This is possibly because players generally don't know each other but I will get a closer look today when I referee the Collegiate team this morning.

Today marks the end of my weekly columns as I am running out of rules-related items to talk about.

There may be the occasional column in future weeks if anything interesting comes up in the Rugby Championship and Northern Hemisphere tour in November.

As well, there is the local Heartland and Mitre 10 Cup competitions that may throw up a curly incident or two.

I would like to thank the WRFU and its staff for the support they have given referees during this season.

A lot goes on behind the scenes to ensure local rugby proceeds in an organised manner and Bridget Belsham and her team have been fantastic to work with.

There are a few changes in the wind and prominent among these is the WRFU's bold decision to employ its own Rugby Education Officer (REO) after having to share this valuable resource with two other provinces over many years.

Well-known player, referee, coach, club administrator and all round good bloke Jerome McRae has been appointed to this role and this move should enhance the local refereeing scene.

With Jerome's extensive knowledge of local players he may well be able to assist in recruiting more referees, as there is a big gap between the good crop of talented young referees we have at the moment and those of us at the other end of our refereeing careers.

Go the Butcher Boys!