SMALL AND PROUD
A few weeks ago, All Blacks flanker Tanerau Latimer wandered down to Jamieson Oval in Te Puke, dusted off his blue and white hooped jersey and jumped into the Baywide second division match between his Rangiuru club side and Rotorua’s Kahukura.
The Kahukura players were dumbfounded and not the least bit delighted. They’d rolled up expecting another dour clash of second division club rugby and suddenly the standard of loose forward play had jumped a couple of hundred notches.
It was nothing new for Latimer, however, who used to come down to the club before he owned his first pair of boots, watching his father Tauser train on cold Te Puke evenings while he ran drills on the sideline and joined in when the seniors played touch.
Characters abound at Rangiuru, and Tauser Latimer was no exception. Flint-hard, square-jawed and fearless, he propped for the club for many years and helped the Te Puke sub-union team win the Peace Cup.
But his All Black son’s links with the club go back even further on the other side, where his mum’s great-grandfather was Moho Wihapi, one of two Te Aute-schooled brothers who helped found the club in 1893.
Over the ensuing 117 years, the Wihapi name has been a constant. Sasu Wihapi is now a highly-promising young first five for the club. Other names have also stood the test of time, like Ronaki, Whare, Kingi, Pouwhare and Hiini.
For nearly 40 of those years, it seemed Rangiuru was served by just three blokes in the No 2 jersey. Billy Ahomiro reigned immediately after the war up to 1960 when Tamati Potene took over. Potene lasted 15 years until ‘The Master’ Dixon Pouwhare appeared on the scene, finally retiring in 1988.
There were versatile legends like Buddy Whare, who played in every position for the senior team from prop to fullback and the sublime talents of Bay of Plenty fullback Hona Harvey, who once kicked twin 50m drop goals five minutes apart in a 1969 match, off either foot.
Over the years, Rangiuru has produced more than its fair share of outrageously talented players. All Blacks midfielder Bill Gray was with the club as a junior before work took him to Rotorua, while All Blacks wing George Skudder – Tanerau Latimer’s uncle – was also a local who found fame elsewhere.
Bay of Plenty centurion Damon Kaui is still playing occasionally, while other recent provincial stars include halfback Mark Basham and centre Willie Clarke.
Club stalwart Bruce Norman is one of three trustees at the club now and had a nine-year tenure as president between 1976 and 1985.
It was during that time the club fundraised, organised and built the permanent clubrooms that stand on the outskirts of Te Puke today. A handsome building with wide open spaces inside and fronting onto Centennial Park, it was completed in June 1981 thanks to an army of volunteers.
The club’s centennial booklet wryly points out the floor of the building was poured in a single day, coinciding with a strike at the local freezing works. It was all done by hand, using two concrete mixers. A month later, builders took advantage of another one-day strike at the works, with volunteers flocking to help put the roof on.
Norman came back on board a couple of seasons ago when the club found itself in financial trouble and with firm resolve, has once again turned its fortunes around.
“It just needed a shake-up – a lot of people were just getting too comfortable so we came in and put some decent systems in place,” Norman said.
“We’re one of the few clubs around that actually own our land and buildings, which is a pretty decent asset, and we’re looking to build on that in the future.
“Te Puke has always had outstanding rugby talent but a lot of it has fallen by the wayside. We’re determined not to let that happen from now on and we want our young players to have a future in the game.”
Tanerau Latimer’s elevation to the All Blacks in June last year didn’t surprise too many people who knew him, but down at the Rangiuru clubrooms, the party still lasted all night.
The talented openside flanker became the first true All Black from the club, although his uncle George Skudder returned there after making the All Blacks from the Waikato University club in Hamilton and Te Puke-raised Bill Gray also played for the club in the 1960s.
But 2009 became even more special for Rangiuru when Latimer’s cousin, Queensland Reds halfback Richard Kingi, bolted into the Wallabies for their end of year tour.
Like Latimer, Kingi played all his junior rugby for the club before shifting to Australia when he was 15.
There was a special moment earlier this year before the Super 14 started when both cousins arrived in town at the same time to present their test jerseys – one gold and one black – to their proud club.
It’s hard to compare all the talent that has passed through Rangiuru’s doors over the years but a small, wiry bloke with a ponytail and bristles definitely stands out.
They reckon Mark Basham was one of the best halfbacks never to make the All Blacks and urban legend contends it was because of his refusal to cut his hair or shave his beard. Had he wielded a razor, he could have supplanted the likes of Bruce Deans or David Kirk.
Following in the footsteps of his father David, who played in the midfield for Bay of Plenty in the 1950s, Basham made his senior debut for Rangiuru in 1980, ended with 91 caps for Bay of Plenty and was recently named the province’s best No 9 in its 99-year history.
Now clean-shaven, a successful businessman and a proud dad, Basham is on the coaching staff of the Rangiuru premier team. He’s also lost the distinctive ponytail, sacrificed soon after he hung up his boots.
“When I finished it just felt right to cut it off. It was part of who I was at the time, maybe a reflection of the people I hung out with or a bit of rebellion. Because I played my club rugby for Rangiuru, maybe it was partly a Maori thing as well.”
ALL BLACKS (1)
Tanerau Latimer 2009
There are plenty of mouth-watering clashes on offer this weekend.
Which player was unlucky to miss out on the All Blacks’ wider training squad?
Gordon Tietjens’ success in sevens is unrivalled and should place him in the same coaching league as Sir Alex Ferguson.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen named a 38-man training squad and there are a couple of oversights worth highlighting