Matthews has eyes on Meads Cup breakthrough

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Well, North Otago rugby fans, it is time to grit your teeth and wish one of your most popular figures the best of luck in the Meads Cup final this weekend.

Ngapara farmer Barry Matthews has a golden opportunity to win heartland rugby’s ultimate prize in Timaru tomorrow.

It is obviously a shame it will be as coach of South Canterbury, not North Otago, but the respect this community has for Matthews will ensure plenty (well, some) will be able to cast aside provincial rivalry and cheer (well, lightly applaud) a home win.

Everyone assumed South Canterbury would be heading north for the final, but Thames Valley upset the applecart with a seismic 17-7 win over Wanganui.

Matthews said Wanganui’s collapse had echoes of last year, when South Canterbury qualified top for the playoffs but was beaten by Wanganui in the semifinal.

The cautionary tale was that a team cruising through pool play could easily come unstuck in a sudden-death game.

That’s why he was so delighted at South Canterbury romping into the final this year with a 58-21 win over King Country in last Saturday’s semifinal, but also wary of assuming the final would go smoothly.

“You just don’t know who’s going to turn up on the day,’ Matthews said.

“It could even come down to having a bit of luck.

“All I know is that if we play well, and Thames Valley play well, it will be a very close game.”

Matthews won the Meads Cup with North Otago in 2010, served as assistant coach at the Highlanders, and guided the Heartland XV, so he has done most things in coaching.

The big target has been winning the Meads Cup with South Canterbury, the team he represented with distinction as a player and has coached since 2015.

“It would be huge – one of the proudest moments of my entire rugby career.

“I always wanted to go back and coach a team I played 90-odd games for, and hold dear to my heart.

“We’ve had a reasonably successful three years without lifting the major prize. If we were able to win the Meads Cup, it would be a big moment.”

South Canterbury has never won the Meads Cup, something North Otago fans have been able to use as ammunition since 2007, but there was no weird mystery about that, Matthews said.

“It’s a bloody hard cup to win.

“You think about the fact that since it started, only four teams have been able to win the thing.”

South Canterbury has at least qualified for the Meads Cup four straight times under Matthews, and he rated last week’s semifinal win as one of the best performances during his tenure.