Gisborne Herald chief reporter Debbie Gregory jumped in the car and headed to Tolaga Bay to check out the Ngati Porou East Coast club rugby grand final on Saturday. She loved every minute of it . . .
I watched two rugby games on Saturday. By far the one on State Highway 35 was better than the one in Wellington.
For the four-dollar entry fee, it was much better value, too.
Uawa turned it on for the East Coast club rugby final on Saturday and their efforts were rewarded with another Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield.
Usually a quiet Coast town, there were clear indications something big was happening at Tolaga Bay long before we got there.
First there was the traffic heading north from Gisborne on Saturday afternoon — a nice, steady stream.
Then there was the man on the horse we had to follow across the Uawa River bridge.
Blue balloons all the way down the “main street” nailed it.
No need for directions to where the event was. You could hear the pre-game roar from just out of town.
Driving in, we were directed to No.2 field where more than a hundred vehicles were already parked on the long grass.
We should have left Gisborne earlier to get a prime park ring-side, where sitting on the bonnet of the car was the norm.
The crowd was obviously leaning toward the home boys.
There was a heavy blue presence in clothing and wigs while a white ute was spray-painted Uawa blue.
Facing them in the final was the Tihirau Victory Club — TVC— from the top of the East Coast.
Dressed in red, there was a large group of TVC supporters collected in one corner but the home side definitely had the numbers advantage.
My brother Paul, visiting from Perth, noticed the signs for no alcohol or smoking . . . but it soon became obvious his few beers in a small chilly bin were the norm as were gumboots and beanies.
Under a fittingly blue sky with the sun streaming down, kids played, women gossiped and laughed and the men discussed the pending battle over a couple of quiet ones.
I was happy about my choice of blue T-shirt as we nestled ourselves among the Uawa fans.
Not far away was a small scaffolding which larger-than-life rugby commentator Ben O’Brien-Leaf negotiated his way on to, then launched into a running commentary — entertainment itself for the people close enough to hear him.
Soon the “doogga, doogga, wak, wak” of a helicopter was heard. It got closer and closer, came into view and landed in the middle of the field.
Out jumped a young Uawa boy holding the match ball to the roar of the crowd — something the boy and this reporter will remember for a long time.
“U-U-U-AWA”, the fans chanted.
The first half of the game was end-to-end and TVC went into halftime leading 16-8.
“Shall we go into the huddle,” said a boy backing Uawa.
“We better. They are losing,” said another and off they ran to join a huge halftime huddle full of kids.
There were screams of delight when Uawa took the lead in the second half.
At times the whole crowd on the clubrooms side of the field walked along with the game, shouting all the way.
There were times when the ref was “one-eyed”, according to the crowd, and the odd suggestion to “knock that one’s block off” was taken in jest and ignored.
In the last few minutes, Uawa took the lead 24-23 but all went silent when TVC were awarded a penalty from a handy position to kick for the victory.
“That’s a sitter,” said one person.
“He won’t miss that,” said another.
He missed . . . and the roar from the home fans was deafening.
The final whistle sounded to blasting reggae music, the crowd poured on to the field and the cry of “U-U U-AWA” could probably be heard from Gisborne.
I’m sure celebrations went long into the night as our happy crew headed home.
See the match report in today's local sport section.