Wednesday, 18 September 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Tairua 25ers shine on national stage

Ten ecstatic young rugby players and their contingent of supporters rode the wave of success from Wellington back to Tairua last week after taking out fourth spot in the 2019 national Rippa Rugby Championship.

The second smallest school in the competition was also honoured with the inaugural Applause Trophy, recognising sportsmanship, fair play and positive attitude.

The team of mostly 10-year-olds qualified to represent Thames Valley after negotiating the Coromandel Peninsula, Thames Valley and Waikato qualifying rounds with 17 wins out of 18 matches. It is the second time in three years that the school of around 140 students has sent a team to Wellington and principal, Brendan Finn, is quick to credit the entire school for the success.

“Right down to our caretaker, Mr Cory-Wright, who maintained and marked our fields so they were always ready for training, it’s been a real team effort,” he said.

Mr Finn said the impact for the students went way beyond sporting achievement. “The way these kids have grown in confidence, their understanding of what it means to be involved in a team, we are even seeing an impact in terms of their academic performance. It is quite phenomenal what sport can do.”

Mr Finn also acknowledged teacher and coach, Chris Hogarth as the driving force behind the team’s success. “Mr Hogarth developed this vision of what could be possible and how it could be achieved. The amount of personal time and effort he invested was just above and beyond. Not only did he inspire the kids, he inspired all of us as well.”

Mr Hogarth said getting to Wellington was not just about what the kids did on the rugby field. “We talked to them about what it means to set a goal and then how you might go about achieving that goal, the commitment that is required and the effort you need to put in. We wanted them to learn what can be possible with hard work, dedication and the right attitude.”

The outcome was even more remarkable given some of the players had never played rugby until earlier this year.

“We knew we needed to increase our skill level. We also knew all ten of our players would need to contribute. We talked about having a champion team, rather than a team of champions. The commitment from the kids was unbelievable. They came to training before school, they were out there every lunchtime. I couldn’t have asked for more and what an experience they have had as a result. I couldn’t have been more proud, not only of how they played, but how they conducted themselves in Wellington. They were helping out whenever they could, talking to other teams, supporting competitors, cleaning up after their meals. The fact that this was recognised through the Applause Trophy was really special,” Mr Hogarth said.

Major competition sponsors including Air New Zealand and Applaud, along with the New Zealand Rugby Union, covered the cost of flights, transport, accommodation and most meals for the team their coach and manager, parent, Kate Morgan. The star treatment included being collected by coach from school and taken to Hamilton Airport where they were greeted by competition mascots before boarding their flight to Wellington. “Our kids were treated just like a team of professionals, it was amazing,” Mr Hogarth said.

The school fundraised and received some extra local sponsorship to help with other costs. Almost all players had some family support at the event, even including a few grandparents.

Speaking to The Informer, the players described both their excitement and nerves when competing on such a big stage. To celebrate Rugby World Cup year, each team played under the banner of a another country, with Tairua representing Hong Kong. “I remember walking out for that first game, I was so nervous,” said Archer Easton. “That first play was so nerve-wracking, but once we started to play, I felt much better,” said Ciara Finn.

Anika Cameron said the experience of visiting Wellington and meeting all the other teams was a highlight. “I did feel some pressure but getting through that with my team and playing really well to make the semi-finals was really exciting.”

Building on their rippa success, the team is now looking ahead to the summer touch season. “We just want to keep playing and getting better. Mr Hogarth is an awesome coach and he really believes in us,” said Chylan Tee. Austen Crowe summed up the overriding feeling of the whole team, “We know now that it doesn’t matter where you come from, even if it is a tiny little town, you can do amazing things.”

Pictured: The Tairua 25ers (named after State Highway 25) who represented Thames Valley at last week’s national Rippa Rugby Championship in Wellington, taking out fourth spot. Back, from left - Chris Hogarth, coach and Kate Morgan, manager. Middle, from the left - Archer Easton, Austen Crowe, Meika Denton, Chylan Tee, Lincoln Easton and Marcus Fisher-Walker. Front, from the left - Ciara Finn, Makala Buchanan, Anika Cameron and Kiwa Rhind.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.