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MX News Update 2024

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Rhinos are more than ready to shake the field

Reading time: 4 minutes

Once hailed as the rugby club with the most All Blacks per capita, Glenmark-Cheviot Rugby Club also has a proud rural base.

The club boasts 10 former All Blacks, including Alex “Grizz” Wyllie, Graeme Higginson, Andy Jefferd, Robbie Deans, Bruce Deans, Craig Green, Richard Loe, Andy Earl, Todd Blackadder and Scott Hamilton.

But a recent challenge brought a different kind of rugby player to club day: the battered farmer heading into retirement is a fair description of his ancient Rhinos rugby team.

More than 40 players had registered to play against the visiting Alnwick Rugby Club from Northumberland, England – a team full of similar farming equipment – ​​on Saturday, May 11.

It all started when the England players had a few drinks in 2020 and decided they wanted to tour and play a bit of rugby.

Glenmark-Cheviot lock George Fox had played for the England side when he took a working holiday at the farm six years ago, and suggested the two clubs play each other.

“They got chatting over a few beers during Covid, I think, and they all decided to come to New Zealand. They are a similar national team.

“They say rugby is for all shapes and sizes and that team will be living proof of that, I would say.”

The Rhinos rugby team consists of a large number of battered farmers who come out of retirement and take on the Alnwick Rugby Club from Northumberland, England.

That could be the kettle calling the pot black. Many of the Rhinos rugby players are well into their 40s and are pulling on the boots after a long period of not playing, with some not having played for more than a decade.

“There are a lot of them that have come out of the woodwork. Some I haven’t seen in years,” Fox said.

One of these is Hawarden sheep farmer Ben Cassidy. Cassidy has 5,000 sheep and 400 cows and has always made rugby fit into his busy lifestyle. After twelve years outside the sport, he hoped for twenty ‘easy’ minutes in the attackers.

The 51-year-old had done almost no training for the runaround, but wasn’t too concerned about injuries or adjustments.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, a few games of squash and a beer, that’s all I did.

“I’ll probably be good for 10 minutes and then I hope someone will replace me. I hope I make it to the last 10, because then you feel like you deserve beer, that’s kind of the goal.

“Even if I’m still alive in the end, I think I’ll be happy.”

Apart from the undercooked preparation that the majority of players have had, the one thing they can all agree on is that rugby has always been a nice relief from the pressures of farming.

“It’s incredibly good mentally, it would be one of the best things. Lots of fun, lots of laughter and good stories.”

Fox, who runs 4,500 sheep and 200 cattle in the Scargill Valley, has played more than 75 games for the club which he believes is the heart of the community, or close to it.

Hawarden sheep farmer Ben Cassidy says rugby has always been a great relief from the pressures of farming.

“Rugby is sometimes the only social contact that many of us will get in the winter, so I think it’s good to go out and know that everyone else is going through the same things as you, especially at the moment the way things are. The farmers are having a hard time here.”

The Cheviot Hill country is one of the worst hit farmlands when it comes to drought this year. Farmers have been dependent on outside feed for months during the dry autumn and early winter.

Although Fox and surrounding farmers have experienced some tough seasons in the sheep industry, he remains optimistic.

‘I think you just have to take it day by day. We must continue to look ahead to the future.

Club stalwart Jody Horrell is another player who left the rugby retirement village after 12 years to play for the Rhinos. After making more than 250 appearances for the club in 18 years, he had figured out how to prepare for the big game.

“I recently bought a bunch of Voltaren and I’m going to get started with it, I think. I start on the road for a few days, I did it last year and it has taken the edge off a little bit.

“A few years ago I was playing golden oldies like this and couldn’t walk for a few days, it was hard to get out of bed. But we will worry about that on Sunday and Monday.”

The 47-year-old was born in Cheviot and runs both the family farm and a contracting business. Rugby has always played a big role in connecting with his friends and taking his mind off things.

“I remember when I played it was one of the main things you focused on. You did your job and rugby it was, the job was actually all planned around rugby.”


This week we talk to Katrina Roberts, the new Dairy Woman of the Year. She is a veterinarian in Waikato and works with dairy farmers to not only maintain the health of cows, but also improve the efficiency of their farm systems.

David Birkett, chairman of the Federated Farmers arable farming, joins us to talk about the awards for the arable sector, for which nominations are now open.
And senior reporter Hugh Stringleman wraps up the dairy season for us, following this week’s GDT auction.