With Easter this coming weekend it is interesting to reflect back on former years when it was a busy schedule for a few Whanganui rugby clubs.
The Marist and Pirates clubs participated in tournaments with Kaierau and Waverley participating in annual fixtures against Wellington teams. Over the years they have mainly all drifted away, mainly because of club fixtures being played over Easter in quite a few unions.
The Marist Spillane tournament, which started in 1931, was called off last month in Taupō because of Covid-19 restrictions but will be held at the same venue in the second weekend of March next season.
The Easter weekend dates were dropped 15 years ago because of domestic club rugby around the country. In recent seasons, Marist organizers came to a three-year agreement with Taupo officials to hold the tournament there.
The Spillane Cup was originally donated by Wanganui’s Mr C Spillane for the annual competition against Wellington Marist and it became a tournament when other North Island Marist clubs came on board.
Wanganui Pirates also entered an annual tourney, in 1930, with Taihape Pirates, Excelsior (Hawke’s Bay) and Kia Toa (Manawatu) also involved. It was shared around the clubs each Easter with matches on Saturday and Monday and a sports day on the Sunday. As with the Marist event, however, the organized club competitions around the North Island led to the demise of the popular tournament.
The same reason applied to the Waverley v Onslow and long-standing Kaierau v Oriental-Rongotai Easter fixtures, although the games have been played occasionally on alternate dates. But club competitions and Heartland representative championships really restrict the availability of suitable playing dates.
West Coast first
Whanganui will make only its third Heartland championship opening day trip to the South Island when it meets the West Coast at Westport on August 20.
The Butcher Boys pipped Mid Canterbury 24-23 at Ashburton in 2012 and went down 18-31 to South Canterbury at Timaru in 2014 on the only other Heartland first round trips south.
Overall Whanganui has played 34 times in the South Island since the 12-union national competition started in 2006 and has even recorded 17 victories and 17 defeats against the five hosting unions.
North Otago and Mid Canterbury have each beaten Whanganui five times in nine home fixtures with the “Boys in Blue” winning four of seven games in Timaru, three from four in the West Coast and dropping three of five matches in Buller.
The Butcher Boys may possess the best record in Heartland rugby but with three unions ahead in home matches since 2006, the southern hosts have provided stern opposition.
Whanganui and Coast have only met once previously in round one, with the southerners whipped 74-6 at Cooks Gardens in 2016, Michael Nabuliwaqe (3) and Te Rangatira Waitokia (2) scoring half of the 10 tries and Dane Whale kicking seven conversions.
In previous visits to Greymouth, Whanganui has won 52-7 in 2008, 69-12 in 2011 and 33-21 in 2018 with the Coasters winning 23-17 in 2014.
Whanganui has only one South Island qualifying fixture this year, with the other three away opponents on the East Coast (Sept. 3), Poverty Bay (Sept. 17) and Horowhenua-Kapiti (Oct. 1).
Home games at Cooks Gardens are against King Country (Aug 27), South Canterbury (Sept 10), Buller (Sept 24) and Mid Canterbury (Oct 8).
This season Whanganui misses out on playing the North Otago, Thames Valley and Wairarapa-Bush in the qualifying rounds.
Last year the Butcher Boys held off North Otago 22-16 in a close local Lochore Cup final after beating eventual Meads Cup runners-up Thames Valley 35-27 at Te Aroha a week earlier, and managed a close 22-18 Bruce Steel Memorial Cup defense win over Wairarapa-Bush at Cooks Gardens.
Settlers Honey Ngamatapouri had every reason to celebrate after beating premier champions Waverley Harvesting Border 27-24 in a pre-season practice match at Dallison Park on Saturday.
Border has held the whip hand over the South Taranaki neighbors, who have finished the bottom of the championship table five times in the past six seasons.
Both teams were minus regular players last weekend but Ngamat, who led 15-12 at half-time, scored five tries to four to notch a rare victory over Border.
Last year Border, who dropped only one game in the championship campaign, beat Ngamat 54-14 at home on the opening weekend of the duck shooting season and 51-10 up the valley.
Ngamat, who collected home wins over Ruapehu (26-21) and Kaierau (17-12), meet Kaierau in a further warm-up for the 2022 Tasman Tanning Championship at the Devon Road Country Club tomorrow (Thursday) night.
Kaierau comfortably beat Pioneer (Wairarapa) 44-27 in a home game of three 20-minute spells. Despite conceding the opening try the hosts led 7-5 after the opening spell and then took control for a 35-5 advantage after 40 min. The game was reduced to “golden oldie” scrums during the third and last quarter with the visitors unable to field a capable front row but managed to score 22 points.
Black Bull Liquor Pirates and Gemini Pepper Construction Kaierau shared the honors in the deciding senior knockout series clash with a fitting 24-all draw at Kaierau. The pirates, who led 17-14 at halftime, had shaded Kaierau 42-39 at Spriggens Park in the championship last season. In the first round of the 2022 k’o series Pirates beat Utiku OB 24-19 in Taihape and Kaierau beat Marist Celtic 48-17 at the Country Club.
Whanganui’s 18 premier and senior teams have an Easter break before the championships start on April 23.
Life Member dies
Taihape Pirates lost a former hard-working life member with the death of 89-year-old former Whanganui representative player and selector Roy Horton.
The well-known shearing contractor played a leading role when the club built its own clubrooms in Thailand, never missing a working bee.
He was elected a life member along with his wife Joan, who pre-deceased him, for their years of dedicated service to the club which won a hat-trick of Taihape domestic championship titles in 1953-54-55 during his playing career.
Roy Horton, five times club president during the 1970s, served as a Whanganui rep selector alongside Eric Weir and Jim Wallace in 1975. That busy season the team finished with an even record of nine wins and nine losses from the union’s busiest ever rep program.
Wanganui beat Taranaki 34-23 here on Queen’s Birthday Monday thanks to Bob Barrell landing six penalty goals and two conversions and also scored home victories over NZ Services 11-6 plus scalping South Island visitors Southland 19-15, South Canterbury 10-7 and Nelson Bays 19-11 as well as beating Buller 13-6 in Westport. Barrell scored 151 points and winger Paul Sharland 10 tries for the team that had held Tonga to 18-15.
Roy Horton, who played mainly as a lock or prop, represented Wanganui eight times including six games in 1954, making his debut as a replacement in a 6-31 loss to Taranaki on Queen’s Birthday Weekend. In his first full game, they scored a try in a 9-22 defeat at the hands of NZ Maori.
He also played, as a prop, when Wanganui held Canterbury to 17-13 in a strong Ranfurly Shield challenge on Lancaster Park.
His brother Ron repped 29 times for Wanganui between 1958-60 as a loose forward.
Current Whanganui rep forwards Hadlee and Peter Travis Hay-Horton are relatives of Ron and Roy.