ALL ABOARD THE PIRATES SHIP
Pirates are enjoying something of a resurgence in 2010, but were it not for the tireless work of the likes of Joe Akurangi and his sister Jenny, club legend and current sponsor Kevin Hollis, plus the husband and wife team of Hinemoa and Wai Makiri, there is some doubt as to whether they would even still be around.
The clubrooms on Gisborne’s Anzac Street are nicely appointed, not too big so as to eliminate any intimacy and not too small to be cramped. Almost adjacent are the headquarters of High School Old Boys and Old Boys-Marist. Pirates are most definitely a city club, but they do not feel hemmed in and draw their players from all round the region.
There is a warm welcome for me from president Pat Makiri, the go-to man for all things Pirates, Hollis himself and the new recruit with widespread contacts and mana in the area, Rua Tipoki. It’s a long way from Thomond Park, Limerick to the Oval, Gisborne, but Tipoki has moved his family back home and is working with the youth and the promising talent in the union. He’s also strapped on the boots again as the player-assistant coach in a Tana Umaga-type role. Now if he can just shake those hamstring niggles…
Pirates are just down the road from that noted rugby nursery Gisborne Boys’ High School. Now there is another viable club rugby option for school leavers than the usual High School Old Boys or Old Boys-Marist.
One of the galvanising factors was the rebuilding of the clubrooms a few years ago.
“For us it was about starting something new. We decided it was time to plant some new seeds,” says Makiri.
“It was about having a good foundation. Our rugby wasn’t very strong. It used to be about (just) the enjoyment of the game and having a good old party, win or lose. We knew how to celebrate a loss!
“But (now) we’ve got a good team of people who work very hard.”
He looks around at the building which his late sister Rangi dreamt would come to fruition. She did close to 15 years tireless fundraising on behalf of the club and there is a memorial outside.
“After the opening, we decided to rebuild our rugby, because that was falling apart.”
That has been a gradual process, but under coach Henry Maxwell, a former Counties prop, the fruits of the labour are starting to show, with Pirates making an encouraging start to the 2010 premier season. Former Steamers front rower Ngarimu Simpkins is one of those who has joined the club.
Yet it is not only the premiers who are reaping the benefits of the clear direction of the club. Makiri says there are five junior sides from under sixes to 13s, plus the senior ones or second XV. Four years ago there was just the one. Numbers are often problematic in Poverty Bay, and not many clubs can say they have two senior sides.
Pirates are actively petitioning the union for a junior window for those of college age, as the 13-17 years are critical periods in a young player’s rugby life. Clubs see little of their juniors until they leave school, or, as so often happens, leave the game.
The likes of Tipoki and Simpkins have priceless knowledge to pass on.
“Rua’s been like a pied piper for us,” says Makiri. “He’s also probably the highest profile player that’s ever come back to Gisborne and still performed.
“Kids will flock to that. It’s not just to be around them. It’s to learn from them.”
Visitors to the club on Saturday afternoons can always count on some Pirates’ hospitality. The team attracts relatively good numbers of supporters and there is plenty of hearty fare and cold beer.
There is a large Maori influence, though the club is by no means exclusively for Maori.
“This was once predominantly a Pakeha club, but as time evolved, that’s been reversed. There’s a lot more Maori players out there now than Pakeha players in the Tairawhiti region,” says Makiri.
Born in 1952 out of the merger of Kaiti City and Celtic, Pirates have known some harsh times. But the better times are here and the good people of the club are determined to keep it that way.
There is a feeling that Pirates’ greatest moment is just around the corner.
Pat Makiri is one to focus more on the present and future rather than the past. He pinpoints three happenings:
“1. The opening of this new building and having the belief to do this as a rugby club.
“2. When a guy named Jade Leaf, who’s now Poverty Bay Under 14 coach, came to us and said he wanted to bring his rugby team here because we had junior rugby… He brought a resurgence through the staunchness of youth and new life. That was a new beginning.
“3. Rua Tipoki coming on board is the icing on the cake that’s been baked. The professionalism he brings is second to none.”
Kevin Hollis looks back to some of the rugby Pirates played a few years ago.
“When we came back from recession and went down a grade, we played some brilliant rugby. It was neat to play and it lifted the whole club.”
Kevin Hollis is what every club needs and loves.
A man with real affinity for the place, having played for 20 years at Pirates, he is now giving back through his business. Kevin Hollis Glass is major sponsor of Pirates.
Though he has never coached, Hollis has stuck with the club through the good times and the bad, when Pirates were the whipping boys of Poverty Bay rugby.
“They used to admire us. We turned up every time. Okay, we got hiding after hiding, but we always put a team on the field,” says the former first five, who played for Poverty Bay out of the club despite its on-field troubles.
But Hollis also recalls with fondness the individual flair and willingness to throw the ball around which underpinned the Pirates’ style when he played in the 1960s and ’70s.
Now he is proud to be witnessing the Pirates’ reawakening.
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