Hick’s Bay in the semi-finals
As the fourth-placed team in this weekend’s 1 v 4, 2 v 3 semifinals, they will travel to Te Araroa Domain as guests of the pace-setters, Tokararangi.
Hicks Bay head coach Aaron King is delighted that his crew live to fight another day.
“Tokararangi will be tough, but we’ll have all of our boys on board and they’re fit too — just a niggle here and there,” he said.
“Our boys had a game-plan against United and started off with a hiss and a roar. It was fast, see-saw, then we got our bearings and began plugging away at it. I’m very proud of our boys for their match-effort.”
King’s opposite, Kuru Gray of United, is a big-picture man.
“We had 21 players at Wharekahika on Saturday, which you certainly need away from home,” said Gray.
“We missed Netani Seruwaqa at No.8 but Matt Marino is experienced at first-five — he directed traffic for us — and Duke Matahiki at centre, who’s not played for three years, gave us that spark.
This was a 100 percent improvement on last season: I’m looking forward to 2021, the third year of our three-year development plan.”
Conditions were good, with sun showers, at Te Rahui o Te Rangi for Hicks Bay at home against Tokomaru Bay United, the hosts playing with a sou’ easterly breeze at their backs.
Hicks Bay opened the scoring in the 19th minute. From an attacking lineout set 17 metres from United’s goal-line on the left touch, they secured loose-ball possession, veteran halfback Tyrone Delamere going right — to first-five Manahi Brooking — whose super short pass to captain of the backs, player of the day second-five Shaun Murtagh saw him score under the bar. Brooking converted Murtagh’s try for 7-0.
In the 32nd minute, the hosts flexed their muscles again: having won a defensive lineout 15m on their own side of halfway, left side of the ground, Brooking and big No.8 Anton King put them in an attacking position. King’s 25m charge down the middle was the platform from which Delamere and young fullback Romeo Newey-Schumann catapulted speedy right wing Pohoikura Waitoa down the far touch, then infield to score.
Brooking converted his try, and then that of forwards captain blindside flanker Frank Taiapa on halftime.
Though neither team gave him any problems, referee Eruera Kawhia still showed the patience of a saint, taking pause to explain his decisions to both teams. A feature of all referees’ interactions with the players, officials and supporters this season has been great mutual respect.
For United, Portrait Watene showed his versatility, shifting from hooker to loosehead prop, Codey Ellis the new rake, captain scrum anchor Mike Chambers-Raroa also battling hard for United.
Seven minutes into the second half, Anton King got a good pass from loosehead prop Jim Hovell, storming 40m down the left touch. He improved the position for Brooking: 28-0.
The visitors struck back in the 54th minute, on the back of three successive penalties: the try-scorer was blindside flanker Travis Tawera.
It remained 28-5 to Hicks Bay until the 63rd minute: Hicks Bay turned the ball over to United halfback Petera Smith in their own half, and centre Duke Matahiki the beneficiary: Matahiki showed great strength to shrug off three would-be tacklers and score 10m to the right of the posts. Fullback Jason Babbington converted for the visitors 12, home team 28.
In the 71st minute, from a five-metre attacking scrum, 10m off the left touch, Hicks Bay scored their last try: they went the blindside, Murtagh scoring five metres from the left corner for a try-double. The final score was 33-12.
United’s player of the day was openside flanker Mikaira Chaffey, who Gray said hadn’t missed a training all season. If a coach had 15 players with Mikaira Chaffey-type availability and work ethic, “he’d never lose a game”, according to Gray.
Raroa-Chambers commented: “We as players knew our roles for the day and it was East Coast rugby at its best — I take my hat off to our boys, some of whom hadn’t played rugby for a while and they’re now starting.
“They fronted up on the day.”