HISTORY was made at Rugby Park on Saturday.
RUGBY by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
The 171st Poverty Bay-East Coast clash ended with Ngati Porou East Coast defeating Civil Project Solutions Poverty Bay 31-28.
It was the Coast’s 41st win against the Bay and — in their centenary year — they added the Anaru “Skip” Paenga Memorial Shield to the PJ Sayers Cup they won in the Queen’s Birthday Weekend game at Whakarua Park in Ruatoria.
This come-from-behind victory to the Sky Blues over a Tom Cairns-Miah Nikora-coached team in scarlet that also played top rugby in Week 7 of the Heartland Championship, was high drama, pure theatre, a candidate for the title of the best Bay-Coast game played since 1923.
Poverty Bay captain and first five eighth Kelvin Smith, an inspired choice as the home team’s skipper in 2021, was typically gracious: “That was an awesome game and we’d love to have been on the other end of the scoreboard, but I’m happy for Hone Haerewa (NPEC captain and blindside flanker) and his boys. They fought hard.
“I’m proud of my Poverty Bay team, and gutted that we didn’t get the result because our preparation and build-up were sharp this week.
“Now we focus on Horowhenua-Kapiti here on Saturday.
“To the Coast, well played, congratulations to Hone on his 50th game for them, and to Peter Mirrielees (the Sky Blues’ hooker) on his 50th first-class cap (his sixth for NPEC, following 44 with Otago).”
Haerewa was relieved and thrilled: “We always knew that this one would come down to the 80th minute. Our boys showed character to come up with the win. We have great respect for Poverty Bay, and our halfback Sam Parkes talked about ‘bragging rights’, because neither side gave an inch.”
The home team led 14-7 at halftime.
Poverty Bay co-coach Cairns acknowledged the Sky Blues’ resilience: “They always come back; it’s always devastating. Credit to them, they came to play. I believe that we dominated at scrum-time; our pack certainly made a big effort at setpiece.
We were good in parts. There were two moments that swung the momentum for them, and that was it. “Our fullback, Paoraian Manual-Harman, is an outstanding player in his own right.
“I’d be surprised if Poverty Bay-East Coast wasn’t the Mainfreight Rugby (Sky Sport 1, 7.30pm, this Thursday) game of the week.”
NPEC head coach Hosea Gear began with the Sky Blues last year and has, with great support from his staff, union and players, led their regeneration in the national game during this restored Heartland Championship.
The 1079th All Black, who at 18 began his senior representative playing career off the bench against Wanganui at Cooks Gardens — for the Bay on September 7, 2002 — on the left wing (while still at Gisborne Boys’ High School), agreed with current GBHS deputy principal Cairns about the quality of the scarlet forward-effort.
“Poverty Bay’s scrum — as expected — was awesome. They have some great ball-carriers, and their backs are quick and sharp. They put us under pressure at the breakdown through Stef Destounis, who I think is the best No.7 in the competition.
“The Bay put us under pressure during the first half and some of the second half, but also lost James Higgins (tighthead prop) to the sin-bin for 10 minutes and at this level — as we’ve experienced — that really hurts.”
Rain in the previous 24 hours had little effect on a sun-baked surface, and with news of the Max Briant-led Poverty Bay under-18s’ 54-10 win against NPEC at the GBHS Rectory filtering back to the park even as the NPEC women’s 24-21 win against Poverty Bay women set the scene as a curtain-raiser, Haerewa won the toss.
He opted to play with a nor’westerly breeze at the Coast’s backs; Smith opted to receive the ball from kick-off.
The crowd was perhaps 1500 strong, not including the three or four on horseback.
The Coast made changes to their original starting line-up. Former Samoan international Faifili Levave started at lock for Hoani Te Moana, former All Black Sevens representative Ngarohi McGarvey-Black went to the left wing for Tawhao Stewart, who took Teina Potae’s starting berth on the right wing. All Black great Ma’a Nonu replaced Manu Herewini at second five The Bay’s starting 15 was as printed in Friday’s Gisborne Herald.
Poverty Bay’s Destounis opened the scoring six minutes into the game with one of the strongest runs of the season. From a scrappy Bay lineout at the 22 on the left touch, Destounis took the ball off the deck and waded through five would-be tacklers to score 16 metres infield.
Smith converted for 7-0.
Ten minutes in, Higgins was shown the yellow card by South Canterbury referee Chris Paul, who was aided on the day by Poverty Bay’s Royce Maynard (AR1) and Mark Green (AR2).
The Coast took advantage, in the 13th minute. Following a penalty tap kick by Parkes 11m into Bay territory, six metres off the right touch, NPEC moved the ball from one sideline to the other over seven phases before Nonu — in front of the posts, 11m from the goal-line — with his third touch in that mind-boggling passage of play, found left wing McGarvey-Black to his right.
He scored next to the posts.
If the first try of the game was all about muscle, the second score of the afternoon was a demonstration of fine interplay between the Sky Blues forwards and backs.
With first-five Te Rangi Fraser’s conversion, The Coast had drawn level at 7-7.
Poverty Bay’s lion-hearted left wing Tione Hubbard made the tackle of the first half at the 30-minute mark, an exocet shot on NPEC’s Tanira Tamanui-Nepia. Hubbard brought the big openside flanker’s storming 20m run down the left side of the ground to an end, 10m into Bay territory.
The Bay No.14’s courage was matched by Manuel-Harman’s positional play and ability to counter-attack. Manuel-Harman, Hubbard and the latter’s hard-grinding wing partner Taine Aupouri contributed hugely to the game for the hosts, as did Fraser for the Sky Blues.
Fraser (now with 75 points) ceded his crown as the Heartland Championship’s leading point-scorer going into Week 7 to South Canterbury first-five Sam Briggs (90pts), but the tall Coast No.10’s three conversions from five attempts were still crucial. Kickable penalties were missed, and declined, by the protagonists here on Saturday.
Smith scored the last try of the first half in the 36th minute. After Bay second-five and former Tongan international Penikolo Latu was held up by NPEC in-goal and McGarvey-Black put up a high kick to restart play, scarlet lock Dan Law caught the ball 13m into Coast territory, a metre off the left touch, and made a swooping run to the 22.
Hulking loosehead prop Toru Noanoa, who like scrum-anchor Higgins made some mighty runs in Poverty Bay’s second-to-last home game of the season, bucked his way to within two metres of the goal-line before the hand-off to Smith, who dotted down a metre to the left of the posts.
Manuel-Harman converted Smith’s try for a halftime scoreline of 14-7. Three minutes after play resumed, 20m from the NPEC goal-line on the left touch, Law won his own ball at No.4 and Skudder broke right from the ensuing line-out drive to score 14m infield.
Smith added the extra points for 21-7. In the 50th minute, the Bay almost succeeded in snuffing out the Coast’s second try. Parkes fielded a long kick from Smith five metres into the Bay’s half, a metre off the left touch. The ball went through Fraser and fullback Hamuera Moana to right wing Tawhao Stewart. He weaved his way 30m upfield and the Sky Blues went through two more phases of play before Manuel-Harman (who had only just made a try-saving tackle on Parkes) intercepted a goal-line pass from NPEC reserve lock Hoani Te Moana. The Sky Blues forced a turnover five metres to the left of the posts and Parkes found Nonu, who then went to McGarvey-Black. Threeman overlap or not, McGarvey-Black cut back to score — 16m infield — to close it to 21-12. McGarvey-Black’s second try was unconverted.
Three minutes later, the Coast were at it again. From an attacking lineout 16m from the right corner, reserve hooker Jorian Tangaere found springheels second-row Gabe Te Kani at No.5. The immensely powerful rake joined the big push. He scored three metres infield for NPEC and without a conversion for NPEC, the hosts led 21-17.
At the 66th minute, Tangaere became the second man in Sky Blue to score twice on the day.
From the left touch, eight metres into Coast territory, Skudder looked for Law at No.4 in the lineout, but Haerewa — as he’d done before — won tap-ball against the throw. NPEC reserve lock Hoani Te Moana set up play, Parkes hoofed the ball down the ground, and Poverty Bay on the bring-back went at the Sky Blues’ defence five times before turning the ball over. This time, Fraser put boot to ball, McGarvey-Black gave chase, and the men in scarlet scrambled in cover centrefield.
Manuel-Harman made it back first, some 12m from the Bay goal-line, but had to release the ball to the Coast’s McGarvey-Black, who found Tangaere with a reverse flick-pass. Eight metres to the right of the posts, Tangaere scored — and roared in triumph.
Fraser converted. The Coast had taken the lead for the first time in the game — 24-21.
Then the Sky Blues had to try to stem an unstoppable tide: a one-man wave. Poverty Bay’s giant reserve tighthead prop Jarryd Broughton, the mightiest man in New Zealand first-class rugby, scored a great try in the 68th minute. From an attacking lineout at the 22 on the right touch, scarlet lock Fletcher Scammell won his own ball at No.3. Three phases later, Bay halfback Mario Counsell cleared a ruck five metres from the NPEC goal-line, 10m off the left touch, infield to Broughton. Three men in Sky Blue did what they could, but Broughton scored.
With Smith’s conversion, the Bay led once more, 28-24. The game produced, in the 75th minute, a ninth and last try worthy of this remarkable clash. From a defensive scrum set on the Coast’s 22, five metres off the right touch, Parkes sent the ball left, by way of Fraser and reserve fullback Verdon Bartlett, to McGarvey-Black. He made a 45m bust down the sideline, and then — as he was dragged down by Manuel-Harman and Smith — got a reverse flick-pass to Parkes on the inside hit. Parkes scooted back to the posts, to score under the crossbar. Fraser converted Parkes’s try for 31-28.
The game was over soon after.
Manuel-Harman was named as Poverty Bay’s MVP (most valuable player); Te Moana was named the NPEC “Kaupoi” (Cowboy) for a monster tackle he made on Broughton in the second half of play.
Referee Paul, who controlled the Heartland season opener between Poverty Bay and North Otago at Oamuru (a narrow escape for the Old Golds, 12-10) three weeks ago, said this of the Bay-Coast derby: “I’m still buzzing from it. The two haka at the start set the tone for how the game would go, with the atmosphere and the passion out there. And it was fast — neither team left the ball in the breakdown any longer than they had to.”
The atmosphere was magnificent, all Covid-19 requirements were met. The life members from both unions were well looked after. The whole day ran like clockwork.
Parkes and Fraser have both scored six tries this season. Formerly the Heartland Championship’s leading try-scorer, Mid-Canterbury No.8 Seta Koroitamana, now shares the top of the mountain with South Canterbury left wing Kalavini Leatigaga.
They have both scored eight tries in 2021.
This Saturday, in Week 8 — the last game in the Heartland round-robin — seventh-placed Poverty Bay (19 competition points) will host fourth-ranked Horowhenua-Kapiti (23pts) at Gisborne’s Rugby Park, while the Sky Blues (15pts), in ninth spot, take on team No.10 Wairarapa-Bush (10pts) at Memorial Park in Masterton.