One of New Zealand Rugby’s fiercest rivalries etched another chapter into its history books just over a week ago when the Crusaders beat the Highlanders in Temuka to retain the Farmlands Cup.
But the Crusaders’ comeback from a 26-0 half-time deficit was only a part of the story. Even more impressive was the 5,000-strong crowd that flooded the small South Canterbury town and packed its local rugby club.
Through the Farmlands Cup, Farmlands have turned an otherwise standard pre-season game into a two-day festival of rural rugby, helping to invigorate small communities and connect New Zealand’s rugby elite with its loyal heartland.
Indeed, at the pre-game skills and drills session, organised by Farmlands for local families, one Crusaders All Black was heard to remark that he had spotted more Crusaders jerseys among Temuka’s kids than at an average game in Christchurch.
The game itself was an entertaining affair as fans were treated to eight tries as both sides tussled for the Farmlands Cup in a highly-entertaining spectacle.
Four tries were scored by the Highlanders in the opening 40 minutes, with Jona Nareki and Ngatungane Punivai bagging one each, while Liam Coltman burrowed over for a brace.
An overhaul in playing personnel at the break sparked a momentous comeback for the home side, who scored a quartet of tries themselves.
Timoci Tavatavanawai set the crowd alight with two impressive tries, before forwards Oli Jager and Sione Havili crashed over to level the score.
The unblemished goal kicking of Brett Cameron earned the Crusaders the lead for the first time with just a minute to play, but an 81st minute penalty awarded to the Highlanders threatened to unravel all of the hosts’ good work.
However, Caleb Makene’s long range shot at goal fell just short and away to the right of the posts, ensuring the Crusaders strengthened their recent iron grip on the Farmlands Cup with an enthralling 28-26 victory.
The result also meant their fans, who turned out in force, went home happy — not just because of the standard of rugby on display, but also because of the events throughout the day that brought plenty of excitement to Temuka.
Star players Richie Mo’unga, Josh Ioane and George Bower even arrived by helicopter with the Farmlands Cup in hand as they and their teammates visited schools and engaged with the local community.
The Crusaders have fought back from a 26-point half-time deficit to defeat the Highlanders 28-26 and reclaim the Farmlands Cup in front of a packed crowd in Temuka.https://t.co/ICZB6qQgu6
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 13, 2021
That is exactly what Farmlands Co-operative chief executive Peter Reidie wanted out of the fixture — the sixth of its kind since the Farmlands Cup was first staged in Waimumu in 2016.
“Having the Farmlands Cup in the rural communities, getting people off the land, they have a bit of a break and have some good times with some of their mates. That’s what it’s all about,” Reidie said.
Those sentiments were echoed by Crusaders prop Joe Moody, who noted the Farmlands Cup is an important way to give back to fans from smaller communities that Super Rugby franchises would otherwise often overlook.
“The Farmlands Cup is special for us because it’s a chance for us to connect back with our grassroots,” the 50-test All Black said.
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson also recognised the importance of taking the four-time reigning Super Rugby champions to one of the smallest yet most passionate rugby fan bases across New Zealand.
“It is special, and it’s special for the local community because they’re here, they’re right in front of them. The dream [of playing for the Crusaders] could come true,” he said.
Temuka and South Canterbury showed us all why rural rugby is so great. We need more Farmlands Cups.
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