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JUBILATION: The Ngati Porou East Coast bench and supporters erupted in cheers and joy at Whakarua Park, Ruatoria, on Saturday afternoon when their team defeated Poverty Bay 28-21. Picture by Paul Rickard

Ngati Porou East Coast players and supporters would have been grateful for the long weekend to recover after their victory over Poverty Bay on Saturday.

In front of a bumper home crowd, NPEC delighted the spectators on their way to a historic 40th win, 28-21, in the ongoing battle for supremacy in Tai Rawhiti rugby.

It was a fitting triumph for the union’s centenary celebrations held over the weekend.

The day began with a trial game for the NPEC women’s team, Hinerupe, which was won 46-0 by Ruataupare, and a legends game that NPEC won 46-20.

The main event started with the teams exchanging haka in a spine-tingling prelude that set the tone for the game to come.

It was a record-breaking day for NPEC, who capped player No.1200 when former Poverty Bay flanker Will Bolingford debuted in sky blue.

He was one of six debutants for NPEC on Saturday, with a Nepia taking the field for the first time in 52 years. Tanira Tamanui-Nepia is the third in the Nepia bloodline to play for the Coast since the illustrious George in the 1920s and ’30s.

Former All Black and NPEC second-five eighth Andy Jefferd, who was in attendance, said the day was a wonderful occasion to celebrate the history and people who have made up NPEC over the last 100 years.

“Rugby draws the community together. The East Coast is a special community.

“I really enjoyed watching the women playing. In time the East Coast women will be a force to be reckoned with.”

Jefferd said the centenary was an opportunity to celebrate and remember not just the players of old but the supporters and those who didn’t get a chance to play when they went overseas to fight in the world wars and other conflicts.

“The East Coast women deserve a special mention. They are the greatest rugby supporters in the world.”

He had fond memories of his playing days in sky blue, with a highlight being the Ranfurly Shield challenge against Waikato.

“The friendships that you make, they last a lifetime. I haven’t seen the odd one (past player) in years and our coach I hadn’t seen since 1980.”

Debutant and All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder told Radio Ngati Porou it was special to be a part of the NPEC celebrations, which included the rededication of the Uepohatu marae and memorial hall.

“For us to win is a bonus. The result wasn’t the main thing; it was about celebrating everyone coming together . . . rugby’s like a culture up here.”

Saturday was the first time in five years that NPEC has bested Poverty Bay, but you could’ve thought it was their first-ever victory given the uproar from the crowd after the game.

by Jack Malcolm
Published June 08, 2021 11:42AM

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