A day to remember
Ngati Porou East Coast’s eighth Ranfurly Shield challenge will be remembered in the context of what preceded it and what follows it, in the union’s 100th year.
What preceded Hawke’s Bay’s 93-5 win against the Coast at McLean Park on Saturday was as efficient and as purposeful a preparation as head coach Hosea Gear, his hard-working staff and committed players could make.
This group’s effort saw them beat an equally well-prepared, capable Poverty Bay side 28-21 to claim the PJ Sayers Cup for the first time in five years on June 4 at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria.
Gear and his captain, blindside flanker Hone Haerewa, take a big-picture view, while acknowledging the good points and matters arising — areas of improvement included — from the Shield match against the Mitre 10 Cup champions.
The second-year head coach said: “It was a great weekend. I’m proud of the effort that we made, and we know that we could be even fitter than we are now.
“The higher our standard of fitness, the more we’ll be able to put what we’ve trained to do into practice.”
“That was an awesome game to play in,” he said. “We didn’t get the opportunity to try out everything we wanted to try, but we now have another building block.”
Hawke’s Bay were unable to keep a clean sheet against the Coast (the Magpies beat North Otago 85-0 at Napier on June 4, having led 42-0 at the break in the first defence of the Log o’ Wood for 2021). It was their fifth game as the Shield’s custodians since they claimed the 117-year-old trophy with a 28-9 win against Otago in Dunedin on October 4, 2020.
The man who made July 24, 2021, a day to be remembered by NPEC fans was former Hawke’s Bay rake, Hikurangi’s own Jorian Tangaere, in the 31st minute of play. The Magpies were 29-0 up when NPEC — playing under advantage — were awarded a penalty for offside play by the Shield holders five metres from the home team’s goal-line, 15m off the left touch.
Coast halfback Sam Parkes, who had a superb game, opted to tap-kick the ball and went left to monster lock Riki Waitoa. Waitoa churned in a sea of black and white physicality, and from the ensuing ruck, hooker Tangaere drove at and under Magpies second-row forward Geoff Cridge to score four metres in from the corner. The Coast fans danced in both the Harris Stand and Graeme Lowe Stand, as they had at the national provincial second-division championship final in 2001.
It is impossible to imagine better technique or a more forceful effort than that made by Tangaere. He joined Brent Ingram, the legendary “Cowboy”, and Tanetoa Parata, as only the third East Coast player to score a try for New Zealand’s smallest union in a Shield match.
Fetcher Parata, who followed Ingram into the NZ Rugby Almanack on July 30, 2013, in the 65-10 loss to Waikato at Ruatoria, had a busy match.
Haerewa said loosehead prop Perrin Manuel brought “a certain professionalism” to the Coast’s game.
“He leads well up front.”
Manuel’s effectiveness was evident not just at scrum-time, but in the tackle and around the park with ball in hand. He played his rugby with relish.
Although the Magpies led 41-5 at the break, claimed one tighthead at the scrum and their co-captain, lock Tom Parsons, made the lineout his own in the second half, Magpies head coach Mark Ozich would not hear of any gap, let alone gulf, between the sides.
“That was a fantastic day and we all really enjoyed the East Coast fans’ positivity and community off the field,” Ozich said.
He also talked about the team’s physicality in contact and desire to move the ball, to keep coming . . . it was full of effort.
Parsons’ co-captain, hooker Kianu Kereru-Symes, was of similar mind.
“NPEC knew what they were doing and competed hard for 80 minutes,” Kereru-Symes said.
“They’ll be a force in the Heartland Championship if they play like that every week.
“Between our teams, there was massive mutual respect on the park — real rugby feeling — then we left it all out there, and enjoyed each other’s company after the game.”
Although the home team outscored the visitors by 15 tries to one, the effort put in and unity achieved by this Coast squad in the time available is worthy of praise.
In terms of the true value of Saturday’s challenge, the best measure of that may involve keeping a count of how many of the 40-odd players who turned out for the practice run last Wednesday continue to want to work. Another measure of the match’s value may be how well the scrum and lineout hold up in future contests.
Morgan Wirepa Jnr is a very good assistant coach/forwards coach, and scrum coach Laman Davies knows front-row play. If they can continue to improve and broaden their pack’s skill base, make the set-piece a weapon, then the Sky Blue backs — who had few opportunities to run at the weekend — have the ability to score tries. The likes of first five-eighth Te Rangi Fraser and left wing Teina Potae are dangerous players.
In Saturday’s match, former All Black No.8 Gareth Evans (eighth minute), openside flanker Josh Kaifa (11th, 42nd min), fullback Danny Toala (15th, 52nd min), left wing Anzelo Tuitavuki (22nd, 47th min), Kereru-Symes (27th min), right wing Dennon Robinson-Bartlett (34th min), loosehead prop Namatahi Waa (40th min), first-five Lincoln McClutchie (58th, 73rd min), reserve loosehead prop Pouri Rakete-Stones (63rd, 75th min) and reserve lock Elijah Martin (65th min) scored tries for Hawke’s Bay, with McClutchie also kicking nine conversions in his 28-point tally.
If this game contributes to players backing themselves to make good decisions and playing rugby without fear, then it will have been not only a high honour in a monumental year, but also a launching pad.
The Coast have expectations and aspirations for this season’s Heartland Championship campaign, not least of which must be a desire to win their first Heartland game since 2012 — the year in which they won the Meads Cup at home.
The Coast under Hone Haerewa have been excellent citizens in the past two years. In this outing, they played hard rugby without needing to be spoken to by Manawatu referee Stu Curran, and no cards of any colour were shown to players from either team.
Only two tries could really be said to have been scored against the run of play — the ninth try of the day, Kaifa’s second, came from a tit-for-tat of turnovers by first Hawke’s Bay, and then the visitors, on the Coast’s left touch in their 22, while the 11th five-pointer of the day, McClutchie’s second score, came from an intercept.
The speed of the ball through the hands of the Magpies’ backs and their ability to immediately re-form their line was a feature of the match, as was the hard running of left wing Tuitavuki, who is a hard man to bring down.
Parkes had an error-free game and, while Ere Enari and Connor McLeod are fine players, his service was every bit as good. Coast No.8 Will Bolingford’s work-rate, like that of his fellow loose forwards, was high as it always is.
Gear chose as the Coast’s MVP (most valuable player) lock Richard Green.
“Richie was everywhere,” Gear said.
“Defensively he was great, he got over the ball well and he also carried well when he had the ball.”
Former All Black and East Coast representative Andy Jefferd left McLean Park a happy man.
“Our boys’ attitude and commitment were fantastic — I was very proud of them,” he said.
“(Reserve openside flanker) Jack Richardson’s tackling was outstanding. And when Jorian got that great try, a girl sitting behind us jumped up and yelled ‘We won! We won!’ That tells you something about the passion and loyalty of East Coast rugby supporters.”
NPEC train at 6.30pm tonight at Kahuitara.