Ngāti Porou East Coast end 54-game losing streak with All Black influence
King Kong was a great ape, not a monkey
And on Saturday he got off the back of Ngati Porou East Coast rugby with the Sky Blues’ 50-26 victory in the Bunnings Warehouse Heartland Championship.
The eighth-placed Coast (eight competition points) broke a losing streak of 54 Heartland games in eight-and-a-bit years with their seven-tries-to-two win against Buller at Enterprise Cars Whakarua Park in Ruatoria.
This was the result that head coach Hosea Gear and his staff have worked tirelessly towards on behalf of NPEC supporters everywhere during the past two seasons.
“I’m really proud of these boys for an outstanding performance,” said Gear, All Black No.1079 and now (with his second-half turn at the weekend) Sky Blue No. 1212.
“Sam Parkes at halfback in his 50th game was our MVP (most valuable player) and also received the Kaupoi, epitomising and displaying the attributes of a Ngati Porou C Company cowboy. He moved the ball constantly, was relentless in defence and — like (first five-eighth) Te Rangi Fraser — scored two tries.
“Te Rangi got 25 points and was superb for us. When Myles Lardelli-Muir Tawa (reserve scrum anchor) came on in the 54th minute, we immediately took a tighthead at scrum-time. Myles made a huge difference. Everybody stepped up.”
Gear, former Samoan international Faifili Levave and 103-game All Black No.1031 Ma’a Nonu debuted off the bench at left wing, No.8 and centre respectively with the Coast up 43-12 in the 61st minute.
Sky Blues captain and openside flanker Hone Haerewa now leads a side whose mathematical chances of a 3-to-6 berth — from which to contest the Lochore Cup or a yet-to-be-named third trophy on November 13 — hinge on NPEC winning their last three round-robin games.
The Ti Ti Paulo-coached Buller crew were courageous and skilful from kick-off to Hawke’s Bay referee Tipene Cottrell’s full-time whistle-blast.
Former Canterbury Crusaders hooker Paulo (deputising for Gus Martyn), on his first trip to the East Coast, said: “This was a great event. I congratulate the home team and the community on everything about this day. I hope too that we can keep the competition as it is, so that we stay in touch with the true heart of New Zealand rugby.”
First-five Andrew Norton-Taylor’s composure, decision-making and long clearances to touch relieved the pressure on a team who, like King Country, have yet to taste victory — but also who have never given less than 100 percent effort — in 2021.
Buller (one competition point) lead 12th-placed King Country on differential.
Reserve second-five and 2018 Heartland u19 representative Joel Hands — in fielding a chip-kick from Fraser 11 metres on his own side of halfway, off the right sideline — saved a try in the 66th minute.
Cardinal-and-Blue captain and hooker Anthony Ellis, Buller’s only representative in the last Heartland 15 selected, in 2019, said: “This wasn’t the result we were looking for but it was special to be able to play against some legends of the game.
“We were happy with our forwards, set-piece-wise; it was a massive shift from our pack on Saturday. Our backs carried the ball well and so did our MVP, No.8 Petrus De Kock.”
“Gabba” De Kock was the equal of any forward in either side. With ball in hand, he ran hard, straight and broke tackles non-stop in astounding fashion and even recovered from a jackhammer hit from blindside flanker Richie Green.
Haerewa won the toss and the Sky Blues played with an easterly breeze at their backs; Ellis chose to kick off in front of a thousand fans on a club day made perfect by the weather, firm, well-grassed surface and colour.
The Coast opened the scoring in the eighth minute. Hooker Jorian Tangaere found lock Gabe Te Kani at No.3 in a five-man lineout at the 22 on the right touch. Loosehead prop Peter Mirrielees cleared the ensuing drive openside to Fraser, who stepped by defenders and sent a 15m pass the way of left wing Teina Potae. Potae got a good bounce and wrong-footed his opposite, Luke Barrow, to score a superb try in the corner. Fraser converted from the sideline for 7-0.
Buller struck back hard in the 14th minute. They won lineout ball on the left touch, 12m from the NPEC goal-line. Over the next phases of play, they worked the ball right, then back to the blindside. Norton-Taylor found left-wing Iliesa Tora, to dot down in the corner.
The try was not converted, and NPEC led 7-5.
The Coast then produced a phenomenal try at the 18-minute mark. Fraser fielded a long kick by Norton-Taylor nine metres from halfway on the left touch. He churned through defenders to the 10m line in Buller’s half and found Te Kani on his left. Te Kani found Haerewa, who set up Potae on an angle infield. Potae’s sleight-of-hand pass to Parkes, and his flight left-to-right across the ground, ended with Parkes grounding 17m in from the corner. Fraser then made the score 14-5.
Parkes made it a double after 32 minutes: the Cardinal and Blue were penalised centrefield 12m out from their goal-line. In a flash, the Coast halfback tap-kicked and scored the hosts’ third try between the posts.
Fraser did duty for 21-5.
Buller have won 21 games of the 30 now played against the Sky Blues and they don’t rattle easily. They continued to toil on a hot day, bring the runners down and knock them back when they could. Head on, Fraser kicked a 35m penalty goal to give NPEC a 24-5 lead to end the best 40 minutes of rugby that the Coast have produced in the past eight-and-a-bit years and their best such showing at home since 2012.
From the resumption, NPEC showed their determination to keep the visitors under pressure.
Fraser scored in the 45th minute. From a tap-penalty 15m off the left touch, 10m from Buller’s goal-line, The Sky Blues went to the right across the face of goal twice, went straight twice from there before Fraser scored 8m to the left of the posts.
Fraser converted the Coast’s fourth, bonus-point try for 31-5.
Buller, who on their last trip to Ruatoria four years ago beat NPEC 54-17, showed more of their trademark tenacity in the 48th minute with a try to De Kock.
From an attacking scrum set two metres to the right of the posts, 16m from The Coast’s goal-line, De Kock went right and was brought down. Next came centre Erenimo Tau. Next came tighthead prop Tuala Tauasosi. Strongman Jacob Wetere, the southerners’ mighty No.1, was next up, followed by lock Sam Godwin, with De Kock finally scoring seven metres to the right of the posts. Norton-Taylor converted to close it to 31-12.
The home team were undeterred. In the 50th minute, in-form, on-fire right wing Tawhao Stewart took the game by storm.
At a defensive lineout 25m from Buller’s goal-line, on the left touch, Ellis found Godwin’s locking partner Isei Lewaqai at No.2. He got the ball to reserve halfback Thor Manawatu, who cleared to Norton-Taylor. In what for the Cardinal and Blue was a cruel twist of fate, Stewart charged the pivot’s clearing kick down and got fingertips to the ball millimetres short of the dead-ball line.
It was an astonishing chase by Stewart. Fraser converted for 38-12. It was a try that would have broken lesser men.
But instead, Buller rose to the occasion, even when the Coast scored their sixth try through reserve openside flanker Jack Richardson in the 60th minute.
From an attacking scrum set 10m from their opponents’ goal-line centreground, No.8 Will Bolingford went right to Parkes. Second-five Manu Herewini then made a strong run, and was brought down half a metre short of glory, but reserve fullback Verdon Bartlett cleared to Richardson, who scored 11m in from the corner. The Ruatoria City fetcher got a great try on the day that his outfit won $1000 for their pageantry and pride on club day.
The score was 43-12, and Levave, Gear and Nonu were then on the field.
In the 71st minute, Fraser scored his second try, from a 50-20 play courtesy of Nonu’s brilliant box-kick and an attacking lineout. Tangaere hit Te Kani’s fellow second-rower Trent Boswell-Wakefield at No.2, 10m from the goal-line. Parkes went right to the big first-five, and he scored between the posts.
Buller had the last say with two late tries, and — considering their match-effort — deservedly so.
In the 74th minute, from a penalty tap-kick by Lewaqai 15m from the Sky Blues’ goal-line, centrefield, the ball went to Wetere. Then came Dallison. Then again came Lewaqai, and then De Kock. He scored five metres to the right of the posts.
The hard graft and excellence in body position at close-quarters from Buller’s pack were remarkable, as was the visitors’ fourth try, a minute from time.
Five metres from the Coast’s goal-line, five metres off the right touch, Buller were awarded a penalty and Manawatu chose to tap-kick. From the deep, fullback Mitieli Kaloudigibeci — who just moments earlier had threatened to score — hit the ball at ramming speed.
His try was converted by Norton-Taylor for a final score of 50-26.
The Sky Blues’ biggest win against the Cardinal and Blue remains the 74-8 victory under legendary head coach Joe McClutchie and captain and No.8 Wirihana Raihania at Ruatoria on October 2, 1999.
Of this latest result, 2021 skipper Hone Haerewa said: “That win has taken a lot of weight off our shoulders. When we won, the whole iwi (tribe) won. We did it for ourselves, but also to give back to our people, who deserve it just as much.
“They’ve been behind us, all the way.”
Ngāti Porou East Coast 50 (Sam Parkes 2, Te Rangi Fraser 2, Teina Potae, Tawhao Stewart, Jack Richardson tries; Fraser pen, Fraser 6 cons) Buller 26 (Gabba De Kock 2, Iliesa Tora, Miti Kaloudigibeci tries; Andrew Norton-Taylor 3 cons). HT: 24-5.