While New Zealand rugby’s 12 Heartland Provincial Unions are highly competitive on the field, the strength of their bonds off it are as strong as ever following the devastation of cyclone Gabrielle earlier this year.
The cyclone left thousands of rugby participants in Poverty Bay and Ngāti Porou East Coast dealing with the impact, which has still to this day made it difficult for people to register for sport.
As a result, funds were raised by the unions in conjunction with the New Zealand Community Trust (NZCT) and Sport Gisborne Tairāwhiti’s initiative ‘Pay Half, Play Hard’, intended to remove financial barriers enabling players to play club rugby either at a reduced cost or for free.
The funds will provide financial support for approximately 4,000 rugby players across Poverty Bay and Ngāti Porou East Coast.
Poverty Bay Rugby Football Union CEO Ray Noble said the priorities of the organisation had shifted since the cyclone.
“When you’re in the weeds rugby goes out the window, you think about supporting communities as a whole whether that’s shovelling silt or providing goods and services that was more important to us,” Noble said.
The Heartland fundraising drive was initiated by Mid-Canterbury Rugby Union CEO Tanya Dearns who at the time was running garage sales in an old storage unit and raised a significant amount of money from it.
“After the garage sales I spoke with our board around what we could do with the money and suggested we supported our Heartland unions on the East Coast to provide them with some form of support,” Dearns said.
“I then put the challenge out to my colleagues in the Heartland community and said, ‘hey who wants to jump on the bandwagon?’”
Heartland unions – Buller, Horowhenua-Kapiti, King Country, Mid-Canterbury, South-Canterbury, North Otago, Thames Valley, Wairarapa Bush, Wanganui and West Coast – combined fundraising efforts of $2,000 each.
North Harbour Rugby Union also supported the efforts with $2,000 and New Zealand Rugby contributed $5,000, bringing the total up to $27,000. Other unions such Northland donated framed NPC jerseys, while Waikato gave a monetary gift.
“For us all to come together is the epitome of what we’re all about at Heartland. We talk about rugby being the heart of our communities and it truly is,” Dearns said.
“On the East Coast their hospitality is amazing, they welcome you with open arms and this gesture is a way of giving back and letting them know we support them.
“It’s cool to be able to help them continue on with the things they’re doing without it heavily impacting their participation numbers.”
Noble said when the region was in response mode it made the gesture that much more unexpected.
“To learn what our unions had done was awesome you feel privileged and humbled when something like this happens,” Noble said.
“Once there was a sense of normality the recovery process included getting people back out there playing rugby.
“For a lot of our players they’re a part of the primary industries which took a big hit so we were worried about our player numbers, but the cyclone had the opposite effect, we’ve got more people playing than we’ve ever had.”
Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby Union CEO Leroy Kururangi said the gesture was a testament to the close relationships between the unions.
“We are very grateful for our fellow Heartland unions, united we’re strong,” Kururangi said.
“We’re a small union ourselves but have learned to remain positive while we adapt to unfortunate circumstances.”
Pay Half, Play Hard:
- NZCT awarded a major grant of $250,000 to Sport Gisborne Tairāwhiti to ensure the continuation of sport in Te Tairāwhiti.
- As part of sport’s reactivation, the ‘Pay Half, Play Hard’ initiative was launched allowing high-participation winter codes to offer half price player fees for 2023.
- The initiative removed at least one financial barrier for people participating.