Results turnaround on Coast
The rugby gods must be crazy.
Week 1 of Enterprise Cars Ngati Porou East Coast club rugby featured wide margins of victory — 73 points, 56 points, 40 points — but in Week 2, the margins between the teams were one point, four points and 10 points.
What happened in Tolaga Bay on Saturday was monumental. Aggressive Tokararangi, with a there-is-no-tomorrow attitude, beat defending champions Uawa 21-20 for the Api Crawford Shield. At Tikitiki, the Kuru Gray-coached Tokomaru Bay United beat Waiapu 17-13 in a great contest and at Kahuitara, Tihirau Victory Club beat a rapidly improving Hikurangi crew 15-5.
The quality of the rugby in Week 2 was superb.
Uawa Domain has been a fortress for the home team in recent years. It took great planning by visiting head coach Israel Brown to engineer the upset of 2020 to date.
Tokararangi co-captain and openside flanker Hone Haerewa said they were prepared for a battle.
“Coming up against the two-time champs, we knew it was going to be hard — the ultimate test,” he said.
“We knew we were up for that, and it was great to do it against a quality side.”
Uawa captain and right wing BJ Sidney acknowledged the match-effort of both powerful clubs.
“We hung in there right to the end against a good team,” he said.
“There were sore bodies after that.”
Tokararangi named as their player of the day powerhouse Chris Bristowe, whose locking partner Kyah Hollis had won that award in the season opener.
Uawa player-coach, tighthead prop Laman Davies, relished the heavy contact between the big forward packs.
Davies was full of praise for Uawa reserve loosehead prop Maia Fox.
Before Saturday, Uawa hadn't lost since April 27, 2019 — a first round-clash with Hicks Bay at Kawakawa Mai Tawhiti. The score on that day was 36-34.
Perhaps inspired by the perfect conditions and crowd of 500, Tokararangi made a rollicking start.
First five-eighth Rapata Haerewa kicked penalty goals in the fifth and ninth minutes and right wing Teina Potae scored a try, converted by Haerewa, to give Tokararangi a 13-0 lead after 17 minutes.
Uawa hit back when Davies, after 31 minutes, scored the first of his two tries. First-five Josh Dearden converted to close it to 13-7.
Four minutes before halftime, Davies scored his second try — unconverted — to cut Tokararangi's lead to one point, 13-12, at halftime.
In the 51st minute, Uawa player of the day, No.8 Paddy Allen, scored to put his team ahead for the first time in the match, 17-13.
In the 62nd minute, Tokararangi co-captain and centre Pamona Samupo scored. The Te Araroa-based club now held an 18-17 advantage.
Seventy minutes in, Uawa's Dearden kicked a penalty goal for 20-18. Tokararangi had challenged East Coast club rugby's dominant force of the past two seasons. Not in 2020 — home ground advantage to Uawa accepted — was Saturday's game ever going to be a 75-15 towelling, as Ruatoria City endured in Week 2 a year ago, or the 46-6 lesson City had received from Uawa a fortnight into the 2018 competition.
Tokararangi had two bites of the cherry remaining. Rapata Haerewa missed an attempted penalty goal with four minutes of play remaining. But in the 80th minute — from a distance of 31 metres, four metres to the left of the posts, Haerewa landed the match-winning penalty for 21-20.
If Tokararangi were to choose any man to take the shot, it would be Haerewa, who, against Hikurangi at Whakarua Park in extra time — the 100th minute — of the 2017 final, kicked a penalty seven metres off the left touch at the 22 for 24-21, giving his then-club TVC their first championship in 27 years.
The match was controlled by referee Eruera Kawhia.
You'd be hard pressed to find a club team led by a man more competitive or committed.
Hikurangi captain Tanetoa Parata played his 100th game for “The Maunga” (mountain) on Saturday, and though the 27-year-old blindside flanker and his crew couldn't quite swing the win against Tihirau Victory Club, they gave their last full measure of devotion.
TVC's peerless composure won them the game 15-5.
“The Maunga love contact: the game was forward-oriented and very physical,” TVC captain and fetcher Moana Mato said.
“To lose our first-five Verdon Bartlett (right hamstring) only four minutes into the game was tough. We were stoked that Ngarangi Haerewa was able to move from halfback out one spot to cover for him so effectively.
“We'll enjoy the bye and the chance to recover in Week 3.”
Hikurangi chose as their player of the day first-five Fabyan Kahaki, while TVC centre Tutere Waenga, who scored the try that sealed the result, was named player of the day for the visitors.
Ten minutes into the game, referee Harawira Matahiki showed the yellow card to both Hikurangi captain Parata and TVC lock Kawana Waititi. The game was played in excellent spirit, and both men contributed mightily to the contest.
TVC second-five Tawhao Stewart scored the opening try 13 minutes into the contest. Waiapu responded with a try in the 25th minute through lock Maui Baker. Neither of those tries was converted, and the halftime score was 5-5.
TVC right-wing Peti Delamere scored in the 60th minute of play for 10-5 and Waenga scored with five minutes left for 15-5 on what wasn't a productive day for goal-kicking. No successful kicks were recorded.
Tokomaru Bay United now know what it feels like to win. Not only that, they tasted success on the road.
United beat Waiapu 17-13 at George Nepia Memorial Park in Tikitiki, and the Kuru Gray-coached visitors won't soon forget it.
“Waiapu captain and first-five Slade Tiopira was outstanding for them, but our forwards were excellent and our team got stronger the longer the game went on,” head coach Gray said.
“I was proud of the fact that our boys scrambled well on defence when they needed to and that we didn't concede a try in the second half.”
Waiapu played powerful rugby in the first half. Their openside flanker Rory Waitoa scored the first try of the game in the ninth minute, and hooker Grayson Mauheni grabbed their second try in the 23rd minute for 10-0.
Tokomaru Bay had played well in patches to that point but needed points before halftime. And in the 38th minute, big United blindside flanker Netani Seruwaqa closed the score to 10-5.
In the 50th minute, veteran lock Mike Tiopira scored a try, converted by fullback Jason Babbington, to give United a 12-10 lead.
At the 60-minute mark, Tiopira kicked a penalty goal to regain the lead, 13-12.
The scene was set for a grandstand finish.
From a midfield scrum set 10m on Tokomaru Bay United's own side of halfway, they won the ball and broke left. Following three pick-and-go plays, lock Cody Ellis scored in the left corner for 17-13, a try on fulltime.
It was a come-from-behind win in a super game of rugby between evenly matched teams who competed that much harder knowing not only that both sides had a real chance of victory going into the game, but that the result would go down to the wire.
United's player of the day was blindside flanker Petera Smith and for Waiapu it was grunty loosehead prop Brent Reedy.