COVERED in mud, covered in glory . . . that was the Pirates team who won back-to-back Lee Bros Shield premier club rugby finals at Rugby Park on Saturday.
A year after winning their historic first Poverty Bay premier championship, Kevin Hollis Glass Pirates made it two in a row with a 20-8 victory over YMP — the team they beat in last year’s final.
Former YMP player Kelvin Smith was the match-winner on the scoreboard with two tries — one in each half of a game dominated by the Henry Maxwell-coached Pirates.
The game, however, was won up front by an inspired Pirates pack, led superbly by skipper and lock Willie Waitoa, who became the first man to captain championship-winning teams in the East Coast (with Tokararangi in 2007) and Poverty Bay club competitions.
In muddy conditions that suited the heavier Pirates side, the tight five of Simon Versteeg, Jody Tuhaka, Tom Miki, Waitoa and Jason Tuapawa took the game by the scruff of the neck from the kickoff and never let up until the last 10 minutes when YMP briefly threatened to make a game of it after replacement No.8 Rapiata Ria scored a try.
Pirates loosies Juston Allen, Donny Mill and Steve Smith made valuable contributions in winning the battle at the breakdown.
Maxwell’s side, appearing in their third successive final, produced almost perfect wet-weather rugby. With their forwards controlling the ball, first five-eighth Duane Hihi’s kicking ensured Pirates were more often than not going forward.
Hihi’s tactically superb kicking game forced YMP into trying to run the ball back in slippery underfoot conditions not suited to running rugby.
Pirates halfback Dean Williams played his part by sacrificing his natural inclination to run the ball. Instead he delivered quick accurate ball to Hihi which gave him time and space to continually put YMP on the back foot. And when YMP turned the ball over, Pirates capitalised.
Williams opened the scoring after 15 minutes with a penalty and eight minutes later it was 10-0.
YMP were on attack when centre Pamona Samupo lost the ball 10 metres outside the Pirates 22 in the middle of the field.
Fullback Smith, the fastest player on the field, was the first to react. He pounced on the loose ball, angled right then raced along the touchline towards the tryline with YMP defenders desperately chasing.
Smith, who raised an arm in the air 25m out from the tryline because he knew he was in, dotted down close to the posts without a hand being laid on him and Williams converted.
YMP second five Waiti Tamatea and Williams traded penalties as the Buccaneers went to the break leading 13-3.
Any hopes of a YMP comeback were dashed eight minutes into the second half.
Replacement Ken Houkamau, on for No.8 Smith, made a powerful run to put his side within 20 metres of the YMP line and close to the right-hand touchline.
When the ball was cleared to Hihi, he hit a pinpoint kick across the field, where an unmarked Smith gleefully collected the bouncing ball and finished off for his second try.
Williams’ conversion put the champions 20-3 ahead and that effectively was the game as the Pirates forwards — supported by Hihi and powerhouse midfielders Reihana Wyllie and Darren Paewai — continued to rumble upfield.
YMP kept defending gallantly but the number of tackles were beginning to tell, and they were forced deeper and deeper inside their 22. But they refused to roll over and with 10 minutes left, captain and lock Willis Tamatea paved the way for Ria to score a try to close the gap to 20-8.
With the possibility of a comeback on, the Magpies threw everything at Pirates but failed to add to their score.
Although on the losing side, YMP hooker Lloyd Gabriel was the pick of his side. Gabriel was unable to train after contacting a virus and came from his sick-bed to play.