Whanganui hunting for home semifinal in Horrock’s 100th game
By Jared Smith
It’s all about the numbers.
Steelform Whanganui will approach Saturday’s annual Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship derby with Horowhenua-Kapiti knowing every point is precious in the race for the second home semifinal.
With Thames Valley having dropped their last two games against leading South Island teams South Canterbury and North Otago, but still collecting four bonus points, they hold the slight advantage over Whanganui despite being level on the table and inferior on differential.
Whanganui’s 36-33 Week 1 loss to the Swampfoxes is looming large, as this will give Thames Valley priority for the home playoff should both they and Whanganui win on Saturday, either by matching with or without the four try bonus.
However, Thames Valley’s task is not easy against the Ngāti Porou East Coast side fighting to confirm their Meads Cup spot and keep fifth-place North Otago off their tail.
And there is one more number that holds significance for Whanganui in what could be their final home game – 100 – as the team would love to give their plucky veteran halfback Lindsay Horrocks the ‘W’ as he becomes the first Whanganui centenarian since Cole Baldwin in 2017.
Debuting in 2013, Horrocks has shown incredible longevity, since that time playing all but two First Class games for Whanganui – Heartland and Ranfurly Shield – the exceptions being 2019 when he was with the NZ Heartland XV to play Samoa at Eden Park, and the Covid-shortened 2020 season when he attended a wedding.
“He’s a hell of a footballer,” said coach Jason Hamlin, who has worked with the 33-year-old Horrocks from 2014 onwards.
“He’s just a competitor, obviously got a great pass on him.
“He’s actually really smart around sensing things in games, and where the opposition are, and where we have to play.
“If one part of the game isn’t working, he can help us in other ways.
“He’ll never cheat you – you know what you’re getting with Lindsay,”
Whanganui has made only one adjustment from the side who ended Wairarapa-Bush’s winning streak at home in the first of consecutive Bruce Steel Memorial Cup defences, as the other player on the doorstep of 100 games in Roman Tutauha regains the starting hooker spot from Alesana Tofa.
“Just trying to get a bit of continuity now,” said Hamlin.
“Got to look after our own box first and hopefully someone else does us a favour.”
But first comes Horowhenua-Kapiti (2-5), who as well as hunting the Bruce Steel, in a rare occurrence for Heartland they still have an outside shot at qualifying for the Lochore Cup group despite being bottom of the table –only four points adrift from Poverty Bay.
“The margin in this competition isn’t very far – a credit for the comp, really,” said Hamlin.
“That slow start [with two losses], hopefully it doesn’t come back to hurt us.
“The boys have been tracking along pretty well, our experienced guys – we’ve been leaning on them.”
Pleasing for Hamlin is for the second game in a row in Masterton, Whanganui ‘won’ the penalty count, and although the timing was initial a half-step off for the backline’s line passes, that’s an easy correction playing back on home soil.
“We could have adjusted quicker, but we played some quality football after halftime.
“On Tuesday the video was showing them what they did right. Saying, ‘this is the things that breaks most Heartland teams – hold ball, claim multiple phases’.
“Those two tries after halftime were crucial for that.
“It would be nice if we could get 60-70 minutes [dominance]. You want 80, but got to respect the opposition.
“We’re moving the ball and there’s points on offer if we get it right.”
Helping with that momentum late in the game were the youngsters – Hamlin very happy with the efforts of reserve prop Konradd Newland, utility back Josh Brunger and Horrocks’ understudy Eben Classen – who scored his first Heartland try.
Brunger, who lost most of the club and then early representative season to a broken bone in his foot, has been showing the spark which saw him play the Super Rugby Under 20’s tournament at the start of the year.
“Big, strong kind, and we’re seeing the benefits of him being fit,” said Hamlin.
Kickoff at what could be a wet Cooks Gardens is 2.30pm.
The Whanganui team is
1. Hadlee Hay-Horton; 2. Roman Tutauha; 3. Raymond Salu; 4. Peter-Travis Hay-Horton; 5. Josh Lane; 6. Samu Kubunavanua; 7. Jamie Hughes; 8. Douglas Horrocks; 9. Lindsay Horrocks; 10. Dane Whale; 11. Josaia Bogileka; 12. Timoci Seruwalu; 13. Alekesio Vakarorogo; 14. Apolosi Tanoa; 15. Peceli Malanicagi.
Forwards: 16. Alesana Tofa; 17. Konradd Newland; 18. Gabriel Hakaraia; 19. Matthew Ashworth; 20. Josefa Namosimalua;
Backs: 21. Eben Classen; 22. Joshua Brunger; 23. Luke Whale.
UNDER 16: The AGC Training Whanganui Under 16 Boys were looking to secure third place in the U16 Boys Hurricanes Youth Rugby Council tournament in Napier on Thursday morning. In the opening game earlier in the week, Whanganui defeated Hawke’s Bay Development 24-5, and then took a 17-7 loss to Poverty Bay on Day 2. Their final game was against Wairarapa Bush.
HOLIDAY PROGRAMME: The WRFU hosted a special Girls 5-Years Plus holiday programme at Cooks Gardens on Wednesday and Taihape’s Memorial Park on Thursday. Youngsters got the chance to learn new ball skills and drills with the WRFU development officers, along with playing games and having a sausage sizzle.