Down 33-30 the Butcher Boys were pressing hard for victory in the last ten minutes until a careless penalty was conceded at the breakdown. With momentum, and approaching the hosts 22, a Whanganui cleaner was pinged for lifting a South Canterbury defender past the horizontal.
South Canterbury kicked back inside the Whanganui half before inspirational No.8 Sui Kakala busted inside the 22 and went within a whisker of scoring a try. He was tackled over the sideline beside the corner flag.
Whanganui knocked on from a five-metre lineout and the South Canterbury forwards locked the ball in quarantine. Muscular scrums were followed by one-pass, low-risk, patient footy. Eventually, reserve Solomone Lavaka barged over which sparked a crowd invasion from relived and delirious supporters.
South Canterbury has won 31 consecutive matches against Heartland opposition since 2019. In 2023 found themselves behind on five occasions at halftime. Again, they suffered from a sluggish start with Whanganui scoring the first two tries against the wind.
Winger Apolosi Tanoa was consistently dangerous and following a 30-metre burst down the sideline, an over-the-head pass to the equally formidable Timoci Seruwalu was ideal ingenuity. South Canterbury kicked two penalties from improved continuity, but when Whanganui's first-five Dane Whale stepped off his left foot and found vacant pasture it was 15-6.
A turning point was a 50/22 clearance by Sam Briggs. The veteran walloped the ball from 22 to 22 and it was the catalyst for South Canterbury to click into another gear. So often in the last three years, South Canterbury has been able to enter a different stratosphere, and 22 points in 11 minutes flipped a deficit of nine into a lead of 13.
Juxtaposed with natural flair is a clarity of purpose. Kakala, Loni Toumohuni, and Anthony Amato were wise and relentless with their carrying in this period. Briggs plays very flat at the line with the ball in two hands creating multiple options.
The Toumohuni try belongs on a canvas with his long leavers untouched and a grin that appeared ironically disarming.
Shortly after halftime, Whanganui was left to rue a shallow clearance that found hand instead of land. Kalavini Leatigaga raced down the left-wing sideline and connected with fullback Liueli Simote before stumbling. Simote was momentarily isolated until Simote sprung back to his feet and received an impromptu pass in the opposite direction the Whanganui defender was headed.
With half an hour left, it could have unravelled for Whanganui. However, in prop Raymond Salu, lock Peter Travis Hay-Horton, Whale, and fullback Peceli Malanicagi they had several outstanding contributors.
South Canterbury was more accurate when it counted. Their scrum and lineout improved throughout and the industry of Kakala at the ruck shouldn’t go unrecognised. He pilfered several turnovers.
In 2023, Whanganui had a 7-3 record and scored 332 points (47 tries), and conceded 199 (26 tries). South Canterbury were 10 out of 10, scoring 415 points (61 tries) and conceding 227 (32 tries).
Since the two unions first met on August 11, 1894, at the Wanganui Recreation Ground (later to become Spriggens Park), Whanganui have won 25 of 44 fixtures, scored 793 points and conceded 725 with an average match score of 18-16. Combined the pair have won the Meads Cup nine times since 2006.
South Canterbury: 40 (Loni Toumohuni, Kalavini Leatigaga 2, Willie Wright, Solomone Lavaka tries; Sam Briggs 3 pen, 3 con) Whanganui: 30 (Timoci Seruwalu, Dane Whale, Raymond Salu, Apolosi Tanoa tries; Whale 2 con, 2 pen) HT: 23-15
South Canterbury 31 Wins in a Row
2019: Heartland Championship
Buller, 56-24 (Lochore Cup Semi)
West Coast, 23-19 (Lochore Cup Final)
NOTE: There was no Heartland Championship in 2020 due to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
2021: Heartland Championship
Wairarapa Bush, 61-17
King Country, 72-0
Ngāti Porou East Coast, 34-12
North Otago, 33-27
Mid Canterbury, 43-22
West Coast, 46-19 (Meads Cup Semi)
Thames Valley, 35-16 (Meads Cup Final)
2022: Heartland Championship
Thames Valley, 23-17
Horowhenua Kapiti, 53-20
North Otago, 36-17
Wairarapa Bush, 73-19
Poverty Bay, 60-7
Mid Canterbury, 36-13
Ngāti Porou East Coast, 57-5
King Country, 76-9 (Meads Cup Semi)
Whanganui, 47-36 (Meads Cup Final)
2023: Heartland Championship
King Country, 45-21
North Otago, 26-22
West Coast, 39-26
Thames Valley, 36-31
Mid Canterbury, 50-35
Poverty Bay, 41-31
Ngāti Porou East Coast, 34-17 (Meads Cup Semi)
Whanganui, 40-30 (Meads Cup Final)