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Tough clashes ahead

Terrier: Uawa flanker Rikki Kernohan, here scoring against Ruatoria City last season, could be a thorn in the side of the Ruatoria backs in an East Coast club rugby match at Tolaga Bay on Saturday. File picture, by Tania Hunter Forget the wet. Not much stops East Coast club rugby, and — unless Gisborne District Council closes the grounds — nothing will this Saturday.

by Ben O’Brien-Leaf

Defending champions Tihirau Victory Club travel to Rangitukia to play Waiapu, Ruatoria City have a tough away game against Uawa, Tokomaru Bay United host Hikurangi, and Hicks Bay defend the Harold Puha and Jim Reedy memorial trophies at home against Tokararangi. Harold Puha coached Te Araroa (later Kawakawa) Combined, Jim Reedy coached Hicks Bay, and the pair combined to coach the Matakaoa sub-union team. The trophies are among the most treasured in East Coast rugby.

“After having to pull out of last year’s competition — because of player numbers and injuries — we’re excited just to be back in the competition, taking every game as it comes,” Tokararangi coach Morgan Wirepa Jnr said.

“Last weekend was a good start for us. The King brothers, Josh and Anton, played extremely well, as did the Brooking brothers, Manahi and Henare.”

Henare Brooking scored his team’s last try in their 36-33 loss to Tihirau Victory Club at Te Araroa.

Israel Brown led the side from halfback in the absence of experienced No.8 Hone Haerewa (24 Ngati Porou East Coast caps) with a broken left wrist.

While Wirepa was impressed with the composure of Tokararangi’s young players against TVC, he expects the 2.30pm clash this Saturday at Wharekahika to be one of the hardest and best games of the season.

“The club’s continued survival is the main goal for this year — everything else we take as it comes,” said Hicks Bay player-coach and first five-eighth Warren Henderson, whose team lost 25-12 to Tokomaru Bay United but did come back from 10-0 down at halftime, courtesy of great tries to powerhouse prop Dylan Biddle and captain and No.8 Frank Taiapa.

Hicks Bay must start better on Saturday and make home advantage count. They will be on the road to Whakarua Park and Uawa Domain in the weeks that follow.

A COURAGEOUS Waiapu team have a hard mission at home against the holders of the Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield, TVC.

The Kahu Waitoa-coached, Frank Manuel-led Waiapu side played a strong second half against Uawa last week.

The strongmen in their pack, such as No.8 Andrew Kennett, can match all comers in terms of combativeness.

Prop Hoto Te Whitu and lock Ihaka Hayes are also tough customers.

Waiapu must retain possession where possible to succeed. Centre Grayson Mauheni proved last Saturday that persistence pays off, and fullback Slade Tiopira is a player whose short kicking game, ability to get by opposition forwards and sidestep with the ball in hand make him dangerous.

“We’re looking to pick up the pace a bit — we came out hard against Tokararangi, who later regrouped and finished the game well,” said TVC captain Moana Mato, six years in the job.

“Attack comes naturally to us but we want to play a good basic game. I’d like Moana Kurei (lock) to play strongly again — he carried the ball and tackled hard last Saturday.”

TVC coach Whetu Haerewa is not taking Waiapu lightly.

“Waiapu play an attractive style of rugby — they’re strong at set-pieces, especially the lineout. Tip Tangaere’s accurate delivery (from halfback) gives their midfield and outside backs time and space.

“We were fearful of them last season and we’re just lucky that (lock) Hoani Te Moana did such a great defensive job up front against competitors like Perrin Manuel.”

Courage — Ruatoria City exemplified that quality in 2017, never more clearly than in the second round at Uawa Domain late in the season. They avenged a 21-14 loss to take the return match 20-10. That set the stage for their first semifinal appearance in 16 years, as team No.3 against the second-placed TVC, who went on to win their first title.

Last week, City didn’t make the local derby against Hikurangi, and Uawa in Tolaga Bay is undoubtedly a hard ask coming in.

Uawa captain Scott Lasenby expects a real battle and coach Tip Nukunuku is pleased to have the team at full strength.

“It’s always a physical game against City, but we want to put a lot of pressure on defensively with line-speed.” Nukunuku said.

“We’re keen to play the brand of rugby we’ve been training to play for the past couple of months.”

Uawa scored 10 tries last week in a 64-8 exhibition against Waiapu.

City, under coach Lisa Muller and lock and stand-in captain Tim Barbarich (regular skipper, No.8 Patrick Allen, is unavailable due to work commitments), will go to the domain with tighthead prop and stalwart Pera Bishop, halfback CJ Fox-Campbell and first five-eighth Corey Walker in their line-up.

Perhaps no three players in the competition will be as important to their teams as that trio this weekend: Bishop as their anchor at scrum-time, Fox-Campbell to clear under pressure from the likes of Uawa flanker Rikki Kernohan, and Walker as backline general.

“The best thing about working with these guys is their attitude — I’m just another coach; it doesn’t matter that I’m a woman,” said Muller, the first female coach in the history of East Coast club rugby.

“We want to come together and gel. Winning comes from that.”

A City win on Saturday would be an upset, as Uawa will want to make it 2-2 at home before their match with Hikurangi at Whakarua Park in Week 3.

Hikurangi coach Doone Harrison is wary of Tokomaru Bay United in light of their away win against Hicks Bay: “To come through up there is no easy feat.

“That’s a good win, so we’re expecting a tough clash.”

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