. . in the final that has everything.
Everything that makes a game great was there.
Defending champions Uawa came from eight points down at halftime to beat Tihirau Victory Club 24-23 in the East Coast club rugby final at Uawa Domain, Tolaga Bay, on Saturday.
Nearly 1500 fans — perhaps 400 of whom had made the 160-kilometre trip from Cape Runaway to support TVC — watched the third meeting of the two best-performed sides in the seven team-competition this year.
Uawa, coming into the final with 12 wins from 13 games, had to come from 16-8 down at the break to beat the heroes of 2017, TVC.
Uawa retained the Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield as East Coast club champions, and George Keelan Challenge Shield for competition with TVC. They had earlier won the Kath McLean (18 May) and Jury Harrison (13 July) Memorial Trophies for the first and second rounds respectively.
As was the case in 2018, the grand stage brought out the best in the team opposing Uawa: Tokararangi under Hone Haerewa lost 25-21, but they were “in” the game from the start and made their hosts strain for victory to the last play.
“That was awesome — a lot of emotion, a lot of joy,” Uawa captain and lock Scott Lasenby said on Saturday.
“This today makes it all worthwhile, for our whole community. The backing they give makes you go one step further. It’s why you empty the tank.”
With his side trailing at the break, Lasenby reminded his teammates of the first-round meeting in which they came back from 30-15 down at halftime to beat TVC 34-30, scoring 19 points in eight minutes at Te Kura Mana Maori o Whangaparaoa.
TVC — led by captain, player-coach and second five-eighth-cum-halfback Moana Mato — made a superb match-effort in this five-try epic.
The 2019 final featured a shock early score, a kicking duel, a break-out by a giant, a tighthead, a try thought to be the winning of the game and a twist in the home team’s fairytale: an opportunity for TVC to snatch victory off the boot of fullback Peti Delamere with 52 seconds left.
Delamere kicked 13 (three penalty goals, two conversions) of TVC’s 23 points. He could not have done more — and Mato, who also worked tirelessly with muscle and brain — knows it.
“Peti kept us in the game all the way and I’m proud of our boys; they went the full 80,” Mato said.
“We executed our plans well — our forwards’ pick-and-go, that ability to build pressure, saw us score two tries in the final.
“People are proud of this team, on and off the field.”
The final was a quick game, played on an excellent surface in perfect conditions with negligible wind.
The action began in earnest at the six-minute mark. From an attacking scrum five metres out from TVC’s goal-line, 15m off the right touch, Uawa halfback Sam Parkes released the backs to his left. The ball went from first-five Chris Richardson to second-five Jordan Patrick, who found powerful fullback Jordan Birch on the inside hit. From the ensuing ruck, Parkes sent a long pass to left wing Tipene Meihana, who picked the ball up on the volley and scored in the corner.
Enter Delamere. He kicked penalty goals in the ninth, 19th and 26th minutes to give TVC a 9-5 lead.
Richardson followed suit with a penalty in the 31st minute but TVC had the last word three minutes before the break. They packed a scrum five metres out from the Uawa goal-line, five metres off the right touch. They shifted the ball, one phase after another, to the left seven times before openside flanker Kuhu Haweti scored next to the posts. His try was a triumph of technique and support play at close quarters. Delamere converted for a 16-8 halftime lead.
The second half began explosively. Lasenby caught the ball from the restart, and, on the fly to his left, found mighty No.8 Adaam Ross, who steamed 30m upfield.
Richardson’s next penalty goal, in the 49th minute, drew the hosts to within five points of TVC . . . 16-11.
In the 52nd minute, from an Uawa scrum at halfway, the home team went four phases into TVC territory, then to the right through three sets of hands before veteran lock Kerehama Blackman found long-legged right wing Niao Savage in the corner. Savage scored, and Uawa had drawn level at 16-all.
In the 56th minute — from a TVC scrum set 15m on their own side of halfway, 10m off the left touch — the Uawa pack took the only tighthead of the game. Sixty seconds later, another Richardson penalty gave them the lead, for the first time since the 26th minute.
In the 65th minute, hard running by TVC MVP (most valuable player) and left wing Ron-Paul McRoberts, Delamere and centre Tawhao Stewart took TVC from 10m inside their own territory to 10m short of Uawa’s goal-line.
Referee Matt Richards gave the visitors two penalties and after consulting with assistant referee No.1 Chris Wanoa, awarded reserve lock Hubert Matchitt a try for TVC. Matchitt scored in the left corner. Delamere, with the crowd little more than an arm’s length away, converted from the sideline for 23-19.
In the 68th minute, Birch made history.
From an Uawa lineout on the TVC 22m line, on the left side of the ground, hooker Wyntah Riki found openside flanker Rikki Kernohan at No.4. The ball then went from Parkes to the right by way of Richardson and Meihana to Birch, who curled thunderously to the right corner — try, Uawa . . . 24-23 to the home team.
With less than a minute to play, Delamere had one last chance to win the game for TVC with a penalty shot 15m from the goal-line, 15m to the left of the posts. Shortly thereafter, Parkes cleared from a scrum to Richardson, upon whose line-kick Richards blew for fulltime.
Kernohan, Uawa’s MVP, was outstanding in all facets of play, while the work-rate of TVC locks Hoani Te Moana and Hirini Delamere was incredible. They carried the ball magnificently. Stewart made a brilliant first-half cover tackle on Patrick and no sooner had Uawa reserve Tangaroa Gray taken the field late in the game than he made a tackle on possibly the most dangerous TVC player: first-five Verdon Bartlett.
Huge community effort bolsters clubs
Gray brought Bartlett down centrefield, three metres on the visitors’ side of halfway, with strong technique and determination. Seventeen-year-old TVC right wing Telique Simeon was never caught out of position and was brave in defence. He is a good young player with a bright future in the game.
Referee Matt Richards and his crew had a great day and the inaugural women’s 15-a-side club final, won 34-0 by TVC against Hicks Bay, was well-controlled by Chris Wanoa.
While Uawa have the likes of Darryl Crawford, Peter Crawford and Nigel McGrannachan behind the scenes, every East Coast club has coaches, managers, cooks and helpers whose contribution in goodwill and sacrifice for rugby teams in their communities is enormous.
Uawa’s mix of powerful, experienced forwards, down-to-earth leadership from Lasenby and coach Tip Nukunuku, and quick, talented backs make their winning a third straight title in 2020 a strong possibility. One thing is certain: none of the other clubs will defer to them. They want what Uawa have — which at the moment is every cup going and — of equal importance, a high standard for themselves and their supporters.