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Derby day at Ruatoria

Catch meTipene Meihana is chased by Tokomaru Bay United’s Randall Williams. United play Hicks Bay on Saturday, while Uawa taken on Waiapu.

‘Playing your neighbours is never easy’

The derby match — 1 v 5 — between competition leaders Hikurangi and fifth-placed Ruatoria City at Whakarua Park didn’t eventuate on April 7, but nothing’s going to stop that game going ahead this Saturday.

“Playing your neighbours is never easy — it’s always a challenge, and always competitive,” said Hikurangi coach Doone Harrison, whose men — with their 29-19 win in 1 v 4 last week — retained the Kath McLean Memorial Trophy as winners of the first round.

“We won Kath’s trophy the first year it was presented, in 2004, and now 10 times in 15 years: a good reminder of our small achievements to this point.”

Uawa (29pts) and Tokararangi (23pts) — second and fourth on the eight-team table respectively — have both won the Kath McLean Trophy twice, with team No.8 Waiapu (5pts) the only other club to have held that prize.

Hurricanes trialist, Ruatoria City captain and No.8 Paddy Allen has been sorely missed during the past fortnight but will make his return from injury in Week 8.

The former Ngatapa and Poverty Bay man has been a tremendous force for City in the past two years and led them to within five points of a showdown with Hikurangi in the 2017 final.

Hikurangi captain and hooker Ngarimu Parata knows that, against a side led Allen and Tim Barbarich, “The Maunga” face a stern test.

“East Coast club rugby is hard running, solid hits and family v family but Hiku-City . . . it’s hard to put those games into words,” said Parata, whose team will also defend the Tanara “Dunn” Kaiwai Trophy against their crosstown rivals.

“You’ve got to see it.”

City coach Lisa Muller — whose team, with only 13 players, defaulted in Week 1 — now has a squad of 30. The effort that Muller and club chairman Tony Holden have made to recruit and retain players is one of this season’s great stories.

The referee for this derby at Ruatoria will be Whiti Timutimu, who controlled Uawa v United in Tokomaru Bay last Saturday, while James Palmer is in charge of TVC (3) v Tokararangi (4) at Whangaparaoa. Jimmy Green will referee Hicks Bay (6) v TBU (7) at Hatea-a-Rangi and Matt Richards will referee Waiapu’s home game against Uawa.

Although Hikurangi, like Uawa, finished the first round with a 6-7 record and only one loss (15-17 v Uawa in Ruatoria, in Week 3), both they and City — who have gone from defaulting to Hikurangi in the season opener to drawing 27-all with defending champions TVC at home — will want to put on a good show at 2.30pm this Saturday. The Kath McLean Memorial Trophy retained by Hikurangi a week ago is named for the secretary-treasurer of the East Coast Rugby Union who won the International Rugby Board chairman’s award in 2001, and the “Dunn” Kaiwai Trophy is named for the former City man, Wellington Lions hooker (24 caps, 1989-1990) and Ngati Porou East Coast assistant coach in 2004-5.

It makes you stop and think
Cape Runaway is a place that’s hard to win at . . . if you’re visiting. And Tokararangi — who lost the first round-meeting 36-33 in Te Araroa — are aiming to do what Tokomaru Bay United (48-0), Ruatoria City (27-all), could not: beat defending champions Tihirau Victory Club at Te Kura Mana Maori o Whangaparaoa.

TVC have also been gutsy on the road, fighting hard in a 32-18 loss to current competition leaders Hikurangi in Week 5.

They also came back from 10-0 down to beat Uawa 13-10 for the George Keelan Memorial Shield: a handsome prize. Player-coach and hooker Whetu Haerewa’s first priority is control of the battle up front.

“I’d like us to be solid at set piece and, again, be really physical in contact. Doing that has held us in good stead during the past few weeks.”

Haerewa knows that Tokararangi have a good young forward pack and exciting backs.

“The big boys have to carry the ball strongly for 80 minutes,” said TVC captain and second five-eighth Mo Mato, who would like to see hard yards from two props and a lock suited to putting some in.

“Josh McDonald is coming back from injury, but we need him, Rawiri Waititi and Hirini Delamere — among others — to do a bit of that for us.”

Although the visitors are coming off a 29-19 loss to Hikurangi at Whakarua Park, numbers 1 to 8 played hard-nosed rugby with Tokararangi’s three tries — and player of the day — being drawn from each row of their forward pack.

Captain and second-five Israel Brown’s crew are good on wet days and can operate in any environment.

“If the weather is good, we expect an open running game — either way, it’s another top-four team, so it’s going to be tough,” coach Morgan Wirepa Jnr said.

Tokararangi last tasted victory in Week 6, a 27-19 result at Te Araroa Domain.

They are team No.4, having won 4-7.

Tokararangi are ferocious in the collision zone. The tempo is one thing; the ability to keep a clear head could be pivotal. And on Saturday, both teams’ skippers will go head to head . . . at inside centre.

There’s nothing better in rugby than proud clubs who give their all
They have nothing to lose, so they don’t play conservatively. And it’s not in the nature of these teams to do that anyway, remembering that East Coast players always see space first, defenders second. That’s what makes the prospect of a Hicks Bay-Tokomaru Bay United — 6 v 7 — clash so interesting.

“Our boys have improved up front but injuries hurt us last week: not just anyone can step up and play prop,” said Hicks Bay player-coach Warren Henderson, whose side lost the Pirika Huriwai-Jones Memorial Trophy 36-0 to Hikurangi a fortnight ago.

On Saturday, Hicks Bay will again be led by fullback Sean Murtagh in the absence of regular captain and No.8 Frank Taiapa.

“My boys are managing their injuries — the break over Queen’s Birthday Weekend will give some sore bodies crucial time to heal.”

Hicks Bay lost their season opener 25-12 to United at Wharekahika and have won two games to date: 14-5 at home v City on April 21, and 31-7 away from home against Waiapu in Week 5.

Tokomaru Bay United lost 52-22 to Waiapu — that club’s only win of the first round — and, like them, have shown real club spirit in the past two months.

“It’ll be a really big challenge for our forwards this weekend — not just a team effort,” United player-coach and lock Mike Tiopira said.

United captain and loosehead prop Adam Williams was at the heart of his side’s superb first-half effort against Uawa in a try-scoring, player-of-the-day performance. They trailed 15-19, and while it proved too difficult for them to stay with the biggest team on the Coast to fulltime, the first 40 minutes of that 62-15 loss spoke volumes about their commitment.

This is 7 hosting 6 — a No.1, loosehead prop Williams, looking to hold a Hicks Bay led by fearless fullback Murtagh. And no one who saw it will ever forget the try Murtagh scored against Tokararangi in Week 5.

A lot of water’s gone under the bridge
Since Uawa’s 10-tries-to-one, 64-8 season-opener against Waiapu, both teams have travelled very different paths. Uawa are in second place, trailing only Hikurangi in points for, and having conceded 69 points to the competition leader’s 67.

Waiapu have taken everything the best could throw at them and respect for them has grown exponentially. More than that — as they proved in the 55th minute of Game 1 — they are dangerous. Second-five Grayson Mauheni scored a very good try at that juncture.

Waiapu coach Kahu Waitoa said: “We will give them a good go. That means our big forwards grinding them into submission before we spread it wide.”

Those are fighting words from a team looking to match spirit with mass, and absorb heavy contact. They relish the physicality. If the game at George Nepia Memorial Park at Rangitukia lives up to the resolve of the hosts, it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
Published: May 24, 2018 3:44PM

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