Steelform Wanganui will be aiming to continue a successful record of early season representative rugby showings against the Hawke's Bay Saracens in Napier on Saturday.
With the NZRU axing the Mitre 10 Heartland national competition for the year because of financial constraints and the Covid-19 epidemic, Wanganui has a much shortened 2020 representative season.
The Butcher Boys start with an annual non first-class outing against the Saracens on the Napier Tremain Field at Park Island and aiming for a fifth win since the fixtures started in 2015.
Hawke's Bay is hosting Canterbury at McLean Park on Saturday night in the third round of the Mitre 10 national first division championship and it will be interesting to see the strength of the Saracens XV to tackle Wanganui.
The last time Saracens beat Wanganui was 34-19 at Spriggens Park in 2018 when they fielded a stronger team than usual, including a number of fringe line first division players.
The Saracens usually field a team of developing players and talented up and coming youngsters.
Wanganui won 36-17 in Napier last year which shocked the locals because the Saracens had thrashed King Country 90-12 and disposed of Horowhenua-Kapiti 64-7.
The Butcher Boys pipped Wellington Development 15-14 a week later at Cooks Gardens and later in the season Wellington held off the Saracens 27-26 in Napier.
Wanganui beat the Saracens 15-6 in 2015 and 41-19 the following season, both on Cooks Gardens, and 33-14 away in 2017.
A major difference this year is that Wanganui goes into the game without the benefit of an annual trial match, although quite a few of the players were involved in the Border-Taihape premier club final last Saturday.
Wanganui's opening first-class game will be against Horowhenua-Kapiti at Shannon on Saturday week (October 3) and then defend the Sir Colin Meads Log against King Country at Taumarunui on October 10, challenge Wairarapa-Bush for the Bruce Steel Memorial Cup at Cooks Gardens on October 17 and play Poverty Bay at McLean Park, Napier, on October 24 as a curtain-raiser to the Hawke's Bay v Manawatu Mitre 10th first division championship fixture.
Wanganui is currently endeavouring to arrange another local rep game on October 31.
Wanganui scorers in fixtures against HB Saracens —
2019 — At Napier — Won 37-17 (Vereniki Tikoisolomone 2, Joe Edwards, Craig Clare, Samu Kubunavanua, Raymond Salu tries, Clare 2 con, Dane Whale con). HT:19-6.
2018 — At Spriggens Park — Lost 19-34 (Dylan Gallien, Whale, Clare tries, Clare 2 con). HT: 19-12.
2017 — At Napier — Won 33-14 (Kubunavanua 4, Tremaine Gilbert tries, Clare 3 con, Whale con). HT: 26-0.
2016 — At Cooks Gardens — Won 41-19 (Kubunavanua 2, Kane Tamou, Roman Tutauha, Jamie Hughes, Ace Malo, Cameron Crowley tries, Steve Crosbie 3 con). HT: 19-all.
2015 — At Cooks Gardens — Won 15-6 (Trinity Spooner-Neera, Daniel Fitzgerald, Jaye Flaws tries), HT: 5-3.
Footnote — In matches played last weekend Wairarapa-Bush beat Horowhenu-Kapiti 43-8 in Levin, Poverty Bay beat East Coast 34-31 in Gisborne, Bay of Plenty Academy beat King Country 39-13 in Te Kuiti, South Canterbury beat Buller 78-10 in Timaru and Mid Canterbury beat North Otago 30-7 in Ashburton.
Former Heartland representative hooker Jack Yarrall has been included in the Wanganui Development Squad to play the Manawatu Academy XV at Cooks Gardens tonight (September 23) at 7pm.
Yarrall is one of five Marist players included in a 26-man squad to be coached by Kaierau's Carl Gibson for the one-off fixture which will also act as a trial for the Steelform Wanganui's short programme of representative games.
Metropolitan champions Kaierau supply seven players and senior champions Ratana three forwards to the squad.
The squad comprises —
Kaierau — Backs: Cameron Davies, Dillon Adrole, Tawera Puohotaua. Forwards: Jack van Bussel, Stan Puapil, Kohit Coveny, Dylan Bowater.
Marist — Backs: Pati Leo, Rangi Kui, Ioani Aki. Forwards: Jack Yarrall, Brad O'Leary
Taihape — Back: Tiari Mumby. Forwards: Lennox Shanks, Ollie Rhodes.
Ruapehu — Back: Logan Blackburn. Forward: Dawson Sisson
Border — Forwards: Toby Lennox, Semi Vodosese.
Ratana — Forwards: Shade Tuaine-Whanau, Tawhiwhi Karaitiana, Arasi Filo.
Metro — Backs: Jack O'Leary. Dominic Devine.
Ngamatapouri — Forward: Mairangi Tamehana.
Utiku OB — Back: James Stratton.
Ranfurly Shield Shock
Taranaki provided the major upset in the Mitre 10 championship last Saturday by lifting the Ranfurly Shield off Canterbury 33-31 in Christchurch.
A fine 46 metre penalty goal from Jordie Barrett in the closing few minutes claimed victory for the amber and black visitors against a star-studded home side.
The victory opens up the possibility of Wanganui gaining a shield challenge next season.
Should Taranaki hold the trophy against Otago (this weekend), Auckland, Counties-Manukau and Hawke's Bay, Wanganui could be in line for an earlier crack at the shield in early 2021 — an eighth "Log" clash between the two neighbouring unions sine 1914.
The Heartland Meads Cup winners traditionally qualify for an automatic Shield challenge the following season but there is no Heartland competition this year.
Canterbury thrashed 2019 Meads Cup holders North Otago 71-7 this year only to lose the Shield to Taranaki last weekend.
If Auckland should lift the trophy there is also a chance of a Wanganui challenge next season following informal discussions between the two unions.
It would be a fourth game between the two unions with Auckland winning 6-5 in 1907, 41-18 in 1963, 16-9 in 1976 and 59-6 in 1987.
Even the staunchest of Waverley supporters will readily admit that Border was very lucky to de-throne Taihape 22-19 in the Tasman Tanning 2020 Wanganui club premier final at Cooks Gardens last weekend.
Former NZ Heartland, Wanganui and Border coach Guy Lennox, who repped for the Butcher Boys 110 times between 1990 and 1998, was shaking his head in amazement after the final whistle.
"We should never ever have won that game. They clearly out-played us in almost every way. Thank God for Nick's (Nick Harding) goal-kicking because Taihape was clearly miles better on the day."
Cole Baldwin, who also repped more than 100 times for Wanganui and played in close finals against Taihape before taking up coaching Border this year, praised his team for its gutsy defence but admitted Taihape had clearly played the better rugby, scoring three tries to one and dominating possession and territorial honours.
And Taihape coach Tom Wells summed it up perfectly — "The better team didn't win."
Unfortunately for his side, usually reliable goal-kicker Dane Whale was successful with only two of his six shots at goal, missing several easy kicks, and Taihape also opted to give away quite a few penalty attempts in favour of sideline kicks to gain lineout throw-ins.
Taihape managed to restrict Border's dangerous raiders, who had scored 73 tries in 11 lead-up games, to a single try and scored three themselves.
Harding, the leading points scorer in the union in 2016-17-18, landed all six of his shots at goal, including several lengthy penalties in the second spell, to finish with 17 points.
He has had injury problems this year but was in deadly accurate form on Saturday to continue a quite remarkable record on Finals Days — 49 points from four finals.
Harding landed 17 pts (five penalties and a conversion) this year, 13 pts (three penalties and two conversions) in a 26-31 extra time loss to Taihape last season, 16 pts (four penalties and two conversions) in a 26-28 loss to Ruapehu in 2018 when Craig Clare landed a long range title winning drop goal, and a match winning penalty in 2016 when Border held off Taihape 17-16.
Harding must have gone very close to winning the Man of the Match award which went to Taihape prop Hadlee Hay-Horton.
The senior final Man of the Match award fittingly went to former Wanganui and Horowhenua-Kapiti Heartland rep halfback Kane Tamou who scored two of Harvey Round Motors Ratana's four tries in an enterprising 29-20 title win over Ali Arc Logistics — DNA Kennels Marist Celtic.
Another dual Wanganui-Horowhena rep, centre Cody Hemi, also scored for unbeaten Ratana with pacy winger Rangi Kui scoring twice for Celtic who were on level terms 12-all at halftime and led 15-12 at one stage.