Rams and Foxes run out of opportunities
Both King Country and Thames Valley suffered further blows to their Heartland Championship campaigns at the weekend and now look unlikely to force their way into the Meads Cup semifinals.
Halfway through the round-robin stage, both teams have one win from four outings and it may now be a case of having to lower expectations and aim for a Lochore Cup semifinal for finishing fifth to eighth in the 12-team competition. One of the sides will face further disappointment this weekend, as the two square off in Te Aroha.
King Country remain on seven competition points in eighth position on the ladder after going down 31-19 to Buller in Westport on Saturday, while Thames Valley were beaten 25-19 by the previously winless Horowhenua-Kapiti in Paraparaumu. Thames Valley earned a bonus point to have them on six competition points in 10th spot.
Three other teams have only one win, while Whanganui remain the only unbeaten side.
King Country were slow off the mark, with the hosts scoring 14 points in the first 20 minutes and taking a 17-0 lead to halftime. After tries to wings Simeli Koniferedi and Dean Church, the Rams got back to 24-12, before Buller scored a crucial try to extend the margin.
Halfback Ben Draper crossed as the Rams came back to 31-19 with about 15 minutes to go but they couldn't find any more points.
"Again we just left ourselves too big a mountain to climb," King Country coach Kurt McQuilkin said, adding that Buller played to the wet conditions better.
"I think we played fairly well below par, especially in the first half. We were just too high with our body positions in the contact zone, both offensively and defensively, and they got a shunt on us every time they came into contact."
Thames Valley were always in the game against Horowhenua-Kapiti but couldn't get a result. The teams scored a try apiece in the first spell, with the Swamp Foxes' five-pointer coming from centre Jason Laurich. But the hosts put on two more tries in the second half, with the visitors kept in the game through the boot of second five-eighth David Harrison, who passed 500 points in first-class rugby and is now nine points away from a new Thames Valley record in first-class matches.
With a few minutes remaining, Harrison knocked over a penalty to reduce the margin to six and the Swamp Foxes battled hard near Horowhenua-Kapiti's tryline until the end.
Thames Valley coach Roger Wilton paid credit to the opposition, who beat up his side in the forwards.
"We struggled to get any ascendancy up front," he said.
"Although our set phase wasn't too bad, it wasn't as good as it could've been and at the breakdown area we were getting a bit beaten up physically so we struggled to get go-forward which just stifled the backs a wee bit."
Wilton felt his side needed to stick to the game plan better and tidy up their handling to be able to hold the ball for longer periods to build pressure.