THE order of the Ngati Porou East Coast club rugby top four and who will play who in the semifinals was confirmed in the last round-robin games on Saturday. Hikurangi beat Waiapu 27-7 at Whakarua Park, Tikirau Victory Club (TVC) won by default over Tawhiti and Ruatoria City beat Uawa 20-10 in Tolaga Bay.
Hikurangi (top qualifiers) play Uawa (4) in Ruatoria in one semifinal this Saturday while TVC (2) host Ruatoria City (3) at Whangaparaoa in the other.
NPEC Rugby Football Union chief executive Cushla Tangaere-Manuel has praised the efforts of clubs in this year’s competition.
“The standard of the rugby has made the competition exciting this year,” said Tangaere-Manuel, who has been at the helm since 2013.
“The commitment to travel and field teams over 20 weeks is amazing and something to be very proud of.”
n Hikurangi scored five tries on the way to beating Waiapu 27-7 in Ruatoria and will fight for the right to defend the Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield for East Coast club champions.
“That was good for us going into the semis. I was happy with our boys, especially our lock Tapui Blane. He’s coming of age,” said second rower Te Rangi Matanuku Parata, who co-captains the side with No.8 Rhys Walker.
Parata said Waiapu tested Hiku a lot more than the 20-point margin suggested.
“Waiapu played with grit and passion. They never gave it to us, right to the bitter end.”
Hikurangi’s try-scorers were left-wing Billy Manuel (2), fullback Kris Palmer, who also kicked a conversion, right-wing Tanetoa Parata and openside flanker Jessie Tuala.
Waiapu skipper and tighthead prop Tripoli Poi described it as a forward-oriented game on a soft ground “but when the ball did go wide, the pace quickened up”.
“I thought our whole forward pack was good out there and our player of the day was loosehead prop Frank Manuel — he’s a soldier for the club.”
Tanetoa Parata opened the scoring at Whakarua Park with a try five minutes into the game. Palmer scored Hikurangi’s second try on the 10-minute mark.
Immediately following that, Hikurangi replaced dynamic hooker Kareti Palmer — who had suffered a deep cut to his jaw in the lead-up to his brother’s try — with Kaimoni Soutar.
Waiapu, playing with the wind, had 65 percent of territory and possession in the first half and struck seven minutes before halftime. From the base of a scrum five metres from the Hikurangi line, halfback Tipuna Tangaere found first-five Abbey Wawatai on the right and he went over. Fullback Slade Tiopira converted.
Despite having only one reserve, the visitors were still in the game at halftime at 10-7 down. The second half, however, saw Hikurangi grind away at a valiant Waiapu and the men from the mountain were rewarded with three tries.
Both captains also earned the wrath of referee Chris Wanoa, who issued a yellow card to Matanuku Parata and a red card to Poi.
Waiapu’s season is not quite over. They head to Tolaga Bay on August 20 to challenge Uawa for the Barry Cup.
Hikurangi 27 (Billy Manuel 2, Kris Palmer, Tanetoa Parata, Jessie Tuala tries; Palmer con)
Waiapu 7 (Abbey Wawatai try; Slade Tiopira con).
Halftime: 10-7 (Hiku).
Ruatoria City avenged their 21-24 first-round loss with a hard-fought 20-10 win at Uawa Domain.
“We had a lot of possession and got our game plan working,” said City captain Paddy Allen, who is in his first year with the club. “But the result could have gone either way.”
City coach Regan Horsfall described the clash as “an arm-wrestle” and said his boys were excited about being in the semis for the first time in 16 years.
Uawa went ahead in the seventh minute with an unforgettable try after referee Whiti Timutimu penalised City for offside play just inside their 22.
Uawa first-five Sebastian Raro cut three players out with a huge pass towards No.8 Harley Phillips, who opted not to actually catch the ball and instead kicked it on the full, then won the race to score.
On the half-hour mark the home team’s fans were cock-a-hoop again when captain BJ Sidney took the ball from a ruck just inside the 22 and went through to score on the blindside.
City trailed 10-0 but were still in the game.
Halfback Neihana Ratahi was everywhere on attack and defence, and the pace and skill of No.8 Te Teira Maxwell had Uawa scrambling in defence.
Even when the home side had the territorial advantage, excellent line-kicking from left-wing Nathaniel Fox made it difficult for Uawa to apply pressure through their big pack.
On halftime, the visitors struck back when their player of the day Maxwell scored to the right of the posts and Fox’s conversion cut the deficit to 10-7.
City began the second half with intensity and Fox kicked a penalty in the 44th minute to level it 10-all.
Uawa then suffered the misfortune of losing strongman Phillips, who was playing superbly, to a corked right thigh.
Fox kicked another penalty in the 62nd minute to put City ahead 13-10.
Four minutes later, Ratahi broke to the right from the scrum, made a long run and linked with second-half second five-eighth replacement Roha Dalton-Reedy, who scored to put City beyond the seven-point mark.
Fox converted the try to close the scoring.
Sidney said despite the defeat, morale was still high in the Uawa camp.
“It was a tough game on a good day for rugby. City kept their composure and fought their way back from 10-0 down. They showed great skill and heart.”
He also complimented referee Timutimu on her communication, control, firmness and fairness.
In a similar vein, Hikurangi co-captain Matanuku Parata said the time and commitment of the East Coast referees was appreciated by the players.
City coach Horsfall made special mention of the Uawa Domain surface.
“It’s fantastic. The ground was firm, grass evenly-cut and it was beautifully marked. They’ve put a lot of work into that.”
Ruatoria City 20 (Te Teira Maxwell, Roha Dalton-Reedy tries; Nathaniel Fox 2 con, 2 pen).
Uawa 10 (Harley Phillips, BJ Sidney).
Halftime: 10-7 (Uawa).
Second-placed TVC’s focus quickly changed to a home semifinal against Ruatoria City after Tawhiti defaulted their Saturday match.
“We’re very happy to get the home semi. It’s a drawcard for our community,” said long-time TVC chairman and East Coast Rugby Football life member Winston Waititi.
The Cape Runaway-based club was keenly anticipating the match while also remembering its history, he said.
“It took us a decade to beat City. They were the last East Coast team that we hadn’t beaten in our first 10 years in the East Coast competition.”
Waititi recalled that it was City delegate Bill Burdett (now the patron and a life member of the ECRU) who moved the motion in 1990 to allow TVC to transfer from Eastern Bay of Plenty to the Coast.
Waititi expects a crowd of at least 300 at Te Kura Mana Maori o Whangaparaoa — situated at the base of Mt Tihirau — for the semi.
The home team will be led by five-year captain and second-five Moana Mato.
“It’s do or die,” said Mato. “All the work we’ve done throughout the season has to take effect now, really. The tight stuff is important. Our forwards have laid the platform for us all season. No doubt they’ll do the same this Saturday.”