Thames Valley's Heartland Harmony: Community Spirit Shines Bright

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With a round to play in the regular season however, a win against Ngāti Porou East Coast is vital to secure a place in the Meads Cup semi-finals. A defeat without a bonus point could see them drop to fifth at the expense of North Otago. Ngāti Porou East Coast is fourth. 

Co-Captain Sam McCahon has made 52 appearances for the Swamp Foxes. The centre debuted against Ngāti Porou East Coast in 2017 and can’t wait for the challenge. 

"East Coast are hearty boys who are good at taking their opportunities. We've done some video analysis on them and they're deadly on the counterattack and have an outstanding lineout drive,” McCahon said.

“We need to win to guarantee our spot in the Meads Cup. We had a chance to do that last Saturday, but we lost in the 82nd minute to North Otago. It's always hard down there. We were looking pretty good until halftime, but they rolled their sleeves up and played well in the second.

“A highlight for me this season has been seeing all the new guys come into the team and perform. It’s a big jump from club to Heartland but some of the debutants have been outstanding. Guto Davies would be 80kg dripping wet, but he just rips into it. Shontayne Dare had been a big impact player.”

A nurturing environment with a focus on helping the community has helped Thames Valley blossom, despite its youth. State Highway 25A Taparahi between Kōpū and Hikuai suffered significant damage in the January flooding and remains closed for repair. That means some players have been commuting or carpooling two hours one way just to make it to practice. 

Goldfields School in Paeroa caters for those with disabilities. Following the Ngāti Porou East Coast clash special jerseys will be auctioned off to raise money for Goldfields. Thames Valley has helped raise $120,000 for Goldfields since 2018.

“The best thing we can do is help them get more resources like laptops, vehicles, ramps, anything that helps make their lives easier,” McCahon said.

“Every year we get together with their students for a couple of hours and help with their classes, sing songs, play games. It brings you back to earth when you see how fortunate we are to play rugby.”

Thames Valley coach Matthew Bartleet and manager Lucas McIver engineered the relationship with Goldfields, the same year Thames Valley won the Meads Cup for the only time. From fourth, the Swamp Foxes upset Whanganui (17-7) in the semi and South Canterbury (17-12) in the final in Timaru.

In that decider Thames Valley was down 12-3 at halftime but tries to captain Brett Ranaga, replacement hooker Sergio de la Fuente, and a legendary try-saving tackle by fullback Ethan Seymour became the stuff of legend. 

"That was an unreal season. When Matthew came in as coach, he changed things on the field but there was a massive focus on being good buggers off the field. I think that’s created an environment where people care more deeply about each other and the jersey. We’ve been to a couple of semis since and we’re not that far away from putting in a complete performance this year," McCahon said.

South Canterbury has become a juggernaut with 28 consecutive wins. However, they have trailed at halftime in their last four matches. Are the green and blacks ripe for tacking?

"They're massive boys and when their forwards wind up, they're hard to stop. Their backs are electric and can light it up too. They've pretty much stayed together since 2018. That continuity makes them hard to stop. Willie Wright is massive for them, but I think the gap is closing," McCahon said.

McCahon grew up on a dairy farm in Dargaville and attended the local high school. He completed a Bachelor in Business at Waikato University where he was persuaded by friends to play for Thames Valley. After five years as a landscaper, he's in his third year as an apprentice builder and insists he has plenty of footy left in the tank. He has formed a strong alliance with lock and co-captain Cam Dromgool.

“Cam is a really hard worker. He leads through his actions which the boys appreciate and follow. I guess I’m the one that delivers the messages.”

Thames Valley Rugby Trivia

Thames Valley coach Matthew Bartleet has had 21 wins in 35 games. Thames Valley won the Meads Cup in 2018 and made at least the semi-finals every year since 2019, a year they also challenged Otago for the Ranfurly Shield. 

Assistant coach Leon Holden was stranded aboard by Covid. He returned this season and helped the Whangamatā Red ‘n’ Whites drag themselves back from a seemingly impossible 0-17 deficit to overwhelm Hauraki North 33-20 in the Thames Valley Senior A club final. Whangamatā also received $30,000 of funding from Bunnings Rugby Assist.

Thames Valley beat Counties Manukau 25-7 in 1988, the largest margin of victory by a Division 3 Union over a Division 1 opponent. 

Thames Valley beat Australia 16-14 in Te Aroha in 1962. The coach Norm McMillan, died in 2022 at the ripe old age of 98. All Blacks loose forward Kevin Barry was the captain and fullback Terry Shaw (Warren Gatland’s father-in-law) kicked a drop goal which won the match and was described as "the most priceless three points in Thames Valley rugby history."