Ngāti Porou East Coast win Lochore Cup Final
The Māori verb best captures the Ngāti Porou East Coast rugby team, Lochore Cup champions for the first time after a tense 25-20 win against a stubborn Mid Canterbury and following a horror 54-match losing streak between 2013 and 2021.
In glorious conditions at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria events before kick-off were both sad and stirring. Tragically, a player in the Ruatoria City versus Ruatoria Centennial XV curtainraiser died of a heart attack. A moment of silence was observed before proceedings and then Ngāti Porou East Coast launched into a ferocious haka which had the Blue wall compressed against the chest of their still and stoic rivals.
Riding a wave of emotion; the hosts started emphatically with former Māori All Black prop Joe Royal rumbling over after a 30-metre rolling maul. Royal flies in from Auckland to represent his Iwi. The conversion handy to the posts by first-five Carlos Kemp made it 7-0.
The first half was largely a cagey and error-ridden affair with both teams trying to gain a territorial advantage through the boot. A lot of the kicking was wasteful and the handling equally forgettable as both teams struggled to gain a foothold. It is worth noting however Ngāti Porou East Coast kicked two 50/22’s.
Diminutive Mid Canterbury fullback Nathan McCloy opened the visitors’ account with a penalty, but Kemp responded to make it 10-3 after 15 minutes.
A further 18 minutes elapsed until the next points were scored, a Mid Canterbury converted try. Ngāti Porou East Coast halfback Sam Parkes attempted to clear but his kick was charged down by Isireli Masiwini who gathered and offloaded to blindside Manasa Samoi who stormed clear to touchdown under the sticks. The halftime score was 10-10.
Much like the first-half Ngāti Porou East Coast started the second spell with real verve and were rewarded in the 43rd minute when loosehead Hakarangi Tichborne battered over the line after relentless close-quarter phase attack.
Mid Canterbury shut the gap to four with another McCoy penalty, but the home forwards mostly dictated terms through their better kicking, rampant mauling, and the sheer presence of former Manu Samoa international Faifili Levave, a beast in jersey eight.
Openside William Bolingford was outstanding for Ngāti Porou East Coast, rock solid in the tackle and swift and strong over the ball. It would be similarly effective blindside Jorian Tangaere who eventually broke through for Ngāti Porou East Coast in the 56th minute, all muscle from close range.
The Mid Canterbury lineout was unreliable and their scrum under duress, but Raitube Vasurakuta played with freedom and authority. The centre made a clean break from inside his own 22 in the 75th minute to set up McCloy.
There was little sign of panic from Ngāti Porou East Coast. Their forwards were patient and brutal in maintaining possession and favourable territory while winger Junior Time-Taotua was lively to the end. Kemp landed a penalty from 30-meters out to make it 25-20 with six minutes remaining.
Parkes from Tolaga Bay is a talisman for the Coast. He celebrated his 50th appearance last year and was typically all energy and hustle behind a dedicated pack. Fittingly Parkes kicked the ball into the grandstand to terminate time to trigger wild celebrations and the obligatory Ruatoria horse invasion. There really is no place like it.
The victory is a genuine triumph for coach and former All Black wing Hosea Gear who has guided his team to more wins in the last two years than what they enjoyed in a decade since winning the Meads Cup final in 2012.
Ngāti Porou East Coast: 25 (Joe Royal, Hakarangi Tichborne, Jorian Tangaere tries; Carlos Kemp 2 con, 2 pen) Mid Canterbury: 20 (Manasa Samoi, Nathan McCloy tries; McCloy 2 pen, 2 con) HT: 10-10