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‘Exciting’ Coast team eye season opener

IN THE CLEAR: Uawa left wing Tipene Meihana runs away from a Tihirau Victory Club would-be tackler in the East Coast club rugby final last Saturday. Meihana will be in action for Ngati Porou East Coast tomorrow. Picture by Paul Rickard

Heartland Championship-wide, by now everyone knows why they’re fizzing.

But former All Black Zac Guildford is not playing in Ngati Porou East Coast’s first pre-season game.

Rather, the Coast is set to play the Anthony Studer-coached Eastern Bay of Plenty from 2pm at Rugby Park in Whakatane tomorrow.

First-year coach Studer — who lined up against NPEC at loosehead prop under previous coach Mike Smith in 2018 — has already informed his new-look side of the reality check coming their way.

“If you haven’t been roughed up already, be prepared for it from East Coast: they’re definitely uncompromising up front,” said Studer, a former SANIX first 15 world cup champion with Rotorua Boys’ High School.

“The Coast see us as coming from the city and there’s going to be even more feeling in it for us now, because it’ll be the first year of the Basil Simpson Memorial Trophy — he passed away earlier this year.”

Formerly a policeman in Te Araroa, the 91-year-old Basil James Wesley Simpson — who played rugby for Matakaoa and with wife Pat celebrated their platinum (70th) wedding anniversary in 2018 — passed away on the second of last month. He was an immensely popular figure.

Two years ago, the Coast having travelled to Opotiki and drawn 15-all with Eastern Bay at Princess Road Reserve, Basil Simpson awarded the visitors his trophy.

Wayne Ensor was astounded by the gesture.

As NPEC head coach, he knows where his team’s strengths lie and how their bodies are holding up after the 16-week East Coast club competition.

“This is a recovery week after the final and a long season — everybody wants to be good-to-go versus Bay of Plenty in Rotorua next week,” Ensor said.

“It’s exciting: the front-row (Hakarangi Tichborne, Wyntah Riki, Perrin Manuel) will only get better; our back-row’s fantastic over the ball — Jack Richardson and Trent Proffit are great there.

“Halfback Hamuera Baker’s got a great pass, Ben Haerewa at first-five has got an eye for gaps and he’s not afraid to have a go, while Tipene Meihana on the left wing is young and can beat people with his footwork. We want him to express himself.”

Meihana is 19 — EBOP second-five Cayless Chisholm is 17, as is the hosts’ right-wing, Elias Te Rire. Eastern Bay will be led by Te Teko’s Te Oranga Headafen at blindside flanker; former NPEC representative Anaru Potae is to play loosehead prop for the home team.

These games present both teams with huge opportunities. EBOP places vital importance on the fixture and with a short turnaround from club competition, it is just as important for NPEC in terms of trying and testing combinations.

Player availability was still being confirmed at time of printing.

RUGBY by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
Published: August 2, 2019 3:52PM