Coast club rugby final: Uawa 25 Tokararangi 21.
Tales of finals grow with the telling.
The Ngati Porou East Coast club final could be seven feet tall in years to come after Uawa withstood a fierce second-half effort from Tokararangi to claim the Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield 25-21 at Tolaga Bay on Saturday.
“It’s still sinking in. All of Uawa is so happy right now,” said victorious captain lock Scott Lasenby, whose crew claimed their first championship title since 2009.
“This team showed awesome discipline and played with a lot of heart,” he said.
Tokararangi skipper and second five-eighth Israel Brown was equally proud of the courage his side showed in fighting back from a 7-22 deficit.
“We played our guts out all season,” he said. “They’re not my team, they’re my brothers.”
Uawa were under pressure after the halftime break, losing reserve lock Reggie Namana to the sinbin for 10 minutes and second-row forward Frank Henderson then scoring the first of Tokararangi’s two second-half tries.
With that the game was transformed and was no longer — as many thought after the dominance of Uawa in the first half — a foregone conclusion.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more from our boys,” said Tokararangi player-coach No.8 Morgan Wirepa junior.
Second five Rikki Crawford was Uawa’s player of the day while workaholic blindside flanker Hone Haerewa was Tokararangi’s best on a day of heroic performances.
In front of an estimated 1500-strong crowd, Uawa scored four first-half tries through halfback Sam Parkes, openside flanker Rikki Kernohan, loosehead prop Laman Davies and Crawford.
Parkes held on to a reverse flick-pass out of a maul from blindside flanker Kerehama Blackman to open the scoring.
Parkes converted to make it 7-0 in the seventh minute and seven minutes later Kernohan scored to put the home side 12-0 ahead,
The visitors struck back with a try between the posts to Wirepa junior, and fullback William Martin’s conversion closed the gap to 12-7.
Davies ran on to a cut-out pass from Parkes to score from 20m out in the 28th minute.
On the stroke of halftime, Crawford charged down and scored from an attempted clearing kick from Martin to send Uawa to the break 22-7 in front.
Tokararangi looked sunk at that point but Henderson gave hope a clawhold in the 53rd minute with a try, which Martin converted to close the deficit to 22-14.
From the restart, Uawa strung 13 phases together and went 25-14 in front when fullback BJ Sidney kicked a crucial 58th-minute penalty from directly in front of the posts.
Three minutes later, five metres from Uawa’s goal-line after a fourth straight penalty, Tokararangi’s Brown tapped, cut three men out with a visionary pass to Potae and he went over for the game’s seventh and last try, converted by Martin.
Ngati Porou East Coast Rugby Football Union chairman Campbell Dewes had every reason to regard the day as a triumph for rugby.
“Uawa, as a community, not just a club, turned it on today,” he said.
“It was exciting stuff, true Coast rugby, because there’d not been more than a converted try between the finalists all season, and I was pleased with the size of what was a happy crowd.”
Points-scoring aside, Saturday’s final was full of high-quality rugby.
Uawa strongmen Harley Phillips, at No.8, blindside flanker Kerehama Blackman and tighthead prop Puri Hauiti all made a massive contribution to the game.
Only a broken right arm could remove Phillips from the fray while Blackman’s power in the tight and Hauiti’s hard running with the ball in hand were every bit as valuable as Sydney’s positional play and Parkes’ all-round involvement.
Uawa’s success was masterminded by their coaching crew of Tip Nukunuku, Peter Crawford and Richard Meihana — blue-collar coaches whose passion, commitment and group-first philosophy is identifiable in the unselfish play and team tries the side scored this season.
For the gallant runners-up, openside flanker Watarawi Ngata was strong in every facet and 17-year-old Martin is developing into a fine player.
“It was so much more intense than any other game we’d played — everyone went harder,” said Martin.
Special mention was made of referee Whiti Timutimu and her assistants Harawira Matahiki, James Palmer and Troy Para, along with Matt Richards, Jimmy Green, Victor Herbert and Melvyn Ashford.
by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
Published: July 30, 2018 4:13PM