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Ngati Porou East Coast show strong work ethics under coach Hosea Gear

line in sight: East Coast winger Teina Potae, here taking on Poverty Bay’s Jacob Leaf, was among the scorers for the Coast against Horowhenua-Kapiti on Saturday.Picture by Paul Rickard

RUGBY by Ben O’Brien-Leaf

Ngati Porou East Coast rugby fans have been on the edge of their seats for almost two years.

Ever since the announcement in 2020 that former All Black Hosea Gear would be the Sky Blues’ head coach, die-hards have hoped and dreamed that the great days of 1999 and 2012 would return.

Those days are not yet here but there has been improvement and on Saturday, the margin between the Coast and their Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship opponents was the smallest — seven points — it’s been since October 5, 2019 (Poverty Bay 24, NPEC 20, at Gisborne).

On Saturday at Levin Domain, Horowhenua-Kapiti (three wins from three games, and now placed third of 12 teams with 14 competition points) beat the Sky Blues 38-31, the ’Nua having been 17-10 in front at halftime in Week 3.

The Coast have won 16, the ’Nua 24, with one game in 41 drawn since the 11-3 win to the ’Nua at Levin on June 23, 1951.

NPEC (three competition points) scored four tries and picked up a bonus point for doing so, and remain in ninth place with at least five games left to play.

Hard-as-nails captain No.8 Hone Haerewa led another strong match-effort by NPEC: “We’re getting better by the week and that’s what we aim for. We’ve got a challenge coming in this Saturday’s home game against South Canterbury, but we’re up for it.”

Horowhenua-Kapiti lock Ryan Shelford, in his sixth year as skipper, won his 94th cap at the weekend. The big man said: “Both camps missed opportunities in a good, hard 80-minute battle.”

Horowhenua-Kapiti head coach Chris Wilton greatly respects the Sky Blues; with such dignitaries and observers as were present due to Delta Level 2 restrictions, he revelled in not just the hard, clean, skilful rugby, but also the passion on show beforehand.

“There was plenty of ihi (power, conviction) in their haka, and they came at us. Their game-plan played to their strengths in the back three — Ngarohi McGarvey-Black (left wing), Te Wehi Wright (right wing) and Te Rangi Fraser (fullback),” said six-year head coach Wilton.

“We were lucky to take a seven-point lead to the break. That game could have gone either way.”

Coast captain Hone Haerewa won the toss, chose to play with a gentle breeze towards the Tararua ranges. On Otago referee Fraser Hannon’s whistle-blast, the ’Nua kicked off.

Big lock Riki Waitoa caught the ball just outside his own 22, eight metres off the right sideline. Second-five Te Manu Herewini shortly thereafter surged five metres and from the subsequent ruck, first-five Rapata Haerewa’s right boot for the right touch saw NPEC go 15m into Horowhenua-Kapiti territory.

In many ways it, was, for the visitors, the perfect start.

The ’Nua opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a penalty goal to left-footed halfback Jack Tatu-Robertsson at the Sky Blues’ 22 — 19m off the right touch — for 3-0.

In the 10th minute, a fired-up Coast forward pack sent the home team’s defensive scrum reeling backwards from the ’Nua’s own 22 and were awarded a penalty. Rapata Haerewa kicked a goal to make the score 3-3.

In the 17th minute, Horowhenua-Kapiti centre Tautau Kapea and Waitoa’s locking partner Gabe Te Kani were both given yellow cards, and Waitoa joined them in the 21st minute. Twenty-five minutes in — from a NPEC defensive lineout gone awry five metres up from the 22, on the right touch — the hosts picked up a loose ball. Three phases of play later, Horowhenua man-of-the-match hooker Bryn Gordon scored the first try of the game next to the right goalpost.

Tatu-Robertsson converted Gordon’s try for 10-3.

In the 30th minute, the ’Nua scored a working man’s try from a lineout set five metres into the Coast’s 22, off the left touch. Over 10 phases of play from the left going right, they got to within a metre of the posts before scrum anchor David McErlean scored a try identical to his match-winning effort in the 2018 Lochore Cup final against Wairarapa-Bush.

Tatu-Robertsson converted for 17-3.

The Sky Blues struck back with a classic score in the 38th minute. From an attacking line-out set 6m into the Horowhenua 22 on the left touch. Hone Haerewa won the ball jumping at No.4 and three perfectly weighted passes later, NPEC fetcher Will Bolingford dotted down alongside the posts.

First-five Rapata Haerewa potted a conversion for the Coast 10, the ’Nua 17 at the break.

The match featured a heaven-and-hell start to the second half with Horowhenua-Kapiti losing the ball forward from the resumption and NPEC taking fewer than 60 seconds to, over six phases, give loosehead prop Jody Tuhaka a small matter of 15m to go for glory. He raced in to score five metres in from the left corner. His try was not converted, and the grey day’s first rain arrived four minutes into the second half.

In the 48th minute, strapping Horowhenua No.8 Benedict Grant scored in the left corner, off an assist from blindside flanker Kolonio Koto. The Coast had previously set a defensive scrum 20m off the right touch. The ’Nua wheeled their scrum opponents ever so slightly, Tatu-Robertsson snatched up the loose ball and Koto then put Arnold away.

Tatu-Robertsson’s conversion saw Horowhenua-Kapiti push out to 24-15.

In the 51st and 54th minutes, Rapata Haerewa landed two penalty goals to get the Sky Blues within a try of Shelford’s men, at NPEC 21, the ’Nua 24.

At the 65-minute mark, the ’Nua’s pacy left wing Lennix Tovo scored after the Coast had twice turned the ball over to McErlean’s replacement Scott Cameron: once off their own lineout throw five metres short of Horowhenua-Kapiti’s 22 on the right touch, and once in an effort to save the ball in play 15m on their own side of halfway. Tatu-Robertsson did duty for 31-21.

In the 70th minute, Hone Haerewa picked up a loose ball 15m into Coast territory and was brought down centrefield. A clearing pass from halfback Sam Parkes and moneyball from Fraser later, and New Zealand Sevens representative McGarvey-Black went down the right touch and scored 12m infield.

McGarvey-Black’s try was not converted: the ’Nua led 31-26.

In the 72nd minute, Horowhenua-Kapiti dropped the hammer: they kicked long from the restart at halfway. The Sky Blues, pinned in their own 22, fought furiously to break the Horowhenua defence but lost possession at a ruck. Four phases later, the hosts’ fullback Hamish Buick scored seven metres in from the right corner. Tatu-Robertsson kept his perfect record of six from six off the tee — his penalty goal and five from five conversions amounted to 13 points.

The Coast’s reserve fetcher Tanetoa Parata was dismissed by Mr Hannon in the 73rd minute.

NPEC took a bonus point for their fourth try — the ninth and last of the day — which went to reserve left wing, Tokararangi’s Teina Potae (76th minute). McGarvey-Black had switched from No.11 to No.13 for starting centre Tawhao Stewart.

The Sky Blues received a penalty 15m from the Horowhenua goal-line: Parkes opted to tap-kick. Reserve tighthead prop Myles Lardelli-Muir Tawa, at 140kg, made the first charge, reserve loosehead prop Morgan Poi made the second. From the ensuing ruck 10m from the goal-line, 15m off the left touch, Parkes sent a steamrolling Potae down the blindside at Horowhenua right wing Himona Henare.

Potae scored. His try was not converted: the final score was 38-31 to the ’Nua.

NPEC head coach Hosea Gear, his staff and squad are doing great work, and will be back at it tomorrow.

Gear said: “We went well in patches: our decision-making under pressure is a work in progress.”

Rugby folk don’t do ifs or buts —however, it would be remiss not to make the point, and strongly, that the team spirit and work ethic of this Ngati Porou East Coast team are strong. They have set high standards, have high expectations, and want to win.

In the next two weeks, they will host first southern powerhouse side and unbeaten competition leaders South Canterbury (maximum 15 points) and the team placed 11th, Buller, who have yet to take a point, at Enterprise Cars Whakarua Park in Ruatoria.

The winner of The Coast’s kaupoi, or Cowboy Hat Award, for Game 3 was Ngarohi McGarvey-Black.