It’s a far cry from South Canterbury’s earliest seasons. They lost their first six games from 1888 to 1892, won their seventh in 1893, then had a losing streak of 15 games from 1894 to 1898.
Between 1979 and 1980, South Canterbury played a total of 32 games for four wins and 28 losses. That included a 10 and 12 game losing streak.
In 2021 South Canterbury won the Meads Cup for the first time with an unblemished 9-0 record, outscoring opponents 400-140.
Nick Strachan is captain of South Canterbury who top the 2022 Heartland Championship standings with six wins in a row. How does the loose forward explain the unprecedented run of success?
“It’s a combination of things. The majority of the team has been together for a handful of seasons now so we have a strong leadership group with five or six guys who can take control,” Strachhan responded.
“We're not relying on one or two players anymore. Were well coached by Nigel Walsh and really dedicated to working hard and making the province proud.”
The Heartland Championship was abandoned in 2020 due to Covid. Despite the restrictive environment there remained a will to play first class matches. South Canterbury beat North Otago and Buller twice and shared a 31-31 draw with Mid Canterbury.
Covid lockdown struck again in 2021, but ironically Strachan believes a competition break helped South Canterbury.
“We stayed connected and took the opportunity to work hard on our fitness. When the competition resumed we really nailed it.”
South Canterbury beat Thames Valley 35-16 in the Meads Cup final. Sam Briggs kicked 20 points and Sireli Buliruarua scored two of his 10 season tries in the decider.
“Winning the Meads Cup was the highlight of my career. I finally got across the line after a couple of close cracks. The scoreline was irrelevant. We controlled possession and territory, and in the second-half kept the scoreboard ticking over with a number of penalties.”
A plumbing foreman with three children, Strachan indicated that 2022 will be his final season.
On June 29 he achieved a special feat when he became just the 14th player to reach 100 games for South Canterbury. Furthermore the milestone was achieved in a Ranfurly Shield challenge in Napier against Hawke’s Bay.
“It was really special how the stars aligned for that oppunitunity, and to play the way we did almost felt like a win.
“They were surprised with our physicality and it felt like we were getting stronger and they were falling away as the game went longer. I wish it went more than 80 minutes.”
South Canterbury was eventually foiled 38-20, their first crack at the Log since an 80-16 smashing at the hands of Canterbury in 2006.
The margin of victory for Hawke’s Bay was the smallest between a division one and Heartland union since Auckland beat Bay of Plenty 30-29 in 1996. With eight minutes to go in that game Bay of Plenty was up 29-11 at Eden Park!
Alpine Energy Stadium in Timaru is under redevelopment this season meaning South Canterbury doesn’t have a permanent home base. The opportunity to take fixtures to rural areas is unique.
“We've played at the Temuka Domain and Strathconan Park which gives people who typically work on a Saturday the chance to come out and see some first class rugby.
“There hadn’t been a first class game in Temuka for something like 95 years so it’s special to get around the whole province. We are really appreciative of the support.”
With high country farmers and nightshift freezing workers in their roster it’s not uncommon for much of the South Canterbury team to travel at least an hour each way to training.
Strachan’s ability to win is not exclusively restricted to rep footy. He has played 209 games for the Celtic club who won ten consecutive South Canterbury club titles from 2009 to 2018. In 2022 they won again, breaking a three-peat from Temuka.
Other memorable seasons for South Canterbury include 1950 and 1974 when they won the Ranfurly Shield. In 1977 they won 13 out of 15 games with a seven match win streak. In 1991 they enjoyed a six game winning streak.
Whanganui holds the record for the longest winning streak in the present incraction of the Heartland championship with 18 on the bounce between 2015 and 2016. Hawke’s Bay won 36 games in a row in the old Division II series from 2001 to 2004.
The longest winning streak in New Zealand first class rugby belongs to Auckland who won 34 games in a row from 1987 to 1989. Following a loss to New South Wales in Sydney in 1989 they bettered that record with an unbeaten streak of 45 games from 1987-1991.
Auckland also holds the women’s record for most wins in a row with 71 between 1994 and 2006.
South Canterbury Unbeaten Streak
2020: First Class Fixtures
Mid Canterbury, 31-31
North Otago, 24-7 & 66-28
Buller, 78-10 & 66-28
2021: Heartland Championship
Wairarapa Bush, 61-17
King Country, 72-0
Ngati Porou East Coast, 34-12
North Otago, 33-27
Mid Canterbury, 43-22
West Coast, 46-19
Thames Valley, 35-16
2022: Heartland Championship
Thames Valley, 23-17
Horowhenua Kapiti, 53-20
North Otago, 36-17
Wairarapa Bush, 73-19
Poverty Bay, 60-7