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‘TO WIN IS A BONUS’

Ngati Porou East Coast players and supporters would have been grateful for the long weekend to recover after their victory over Poverty Bay on Saturday.

In front of a bumper home crowd, NPEC delighted the spectators on their way to a historic 40th win, 28-21, in the ongoing battle for supremacy in Tairawhiti rugby.

It was a fitting triumph for the union’s centenary celebrations held over the weekend.

The day began with a trial game for the NPEC women’s team, Hinerupe, which was won 46-0 by Ruataupare, and a legends game that NPEC won 46-20.

The main event started with the teams exchanging haka in a spine-tingling prelude that set the tone for the game to come.

It was a record-breaking day for NPEC, who capped player No.1200 when former Poverty Bay flanker Will Bolingford debuted in sky blue.

He was one of six debutants for NPEC on Saturday, with a Nepia taking the field for the first time in 52 years. Tanira Tamanui-Nepia is the third in the Nepia bloodline to play for the Coast since the illustrious George in the 1920s and ’30s.

Former All Black and NPEC second-five eighth Andy Jefferd, who was in attendance, said the day was a wonderful occasion to celebrate the history and people who have made up NPEC over the last 100 years.

“Rugby draws the community together. The East Coast is a special community.

“I really enjoyed watching the women playing. In time the East Coast women will be a force to be reckoned with.”

Jefferd said the centenary was an opportunity to celebrate and remember not just the players of old but the supporters and those who didn’t get a chance to play when they went overseas to fight in the world wars and other conflicts.

“The East Coast women deserve a special mention. They are the greatest rugby supporters in the world.”

He had fond memories of his playing days in sky blue, with a highlight being the Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato.

“The friendships that you make, they last a lifetime. I haven’t seen the odd one (past player) in years and our coach I hadn’t seen since 1980.”

Debutant and All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder told Radio Ngati Porou it was special to be a part of the NPEC celebrations, which included the rededication of the Uepohatu marae and memorial hall.

“For us to win is a bonus. The result wasn’t the main thing; it was about celebrating everyone coming together . . . rugby’s like a culture up here.”

Saturday was the first time in five years that NPEC has bested Poverty Bay, but you could’ve thought it was their first-ever victory given the uproar from the crowd after the game.

JUBILATION: The Ngati Porou East Coast bench and supporters erupted in cheers and joy at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria, on Saturday afternoon when their team defeated Poverty Bay 28-21. Picture by Paul Rickard