DOING IT FOR THE COMMUNITY
RAHUI has strong ties to its community.
That much is evident when I pull into the carpark at the Otaki Domain and make my way up to the clubrooms for this interview. They are alive as a group of people are setting up for what I can only imagine is going to be one massive 21st birthday bash. I’m told by club president Rex Kerr the local college has also been using the compact facility as a classroom.
People are coming and going, little children are running around making a racket (something which is commonplace after games on Saturdays as well), as I get down to business with Kerr, club legend Jim Spiers, former player and coach Bill Doyle, his son Sam – of New Zealand Maori, Hurricanes, Wellington and Manawatu fame – and former New Zealand Maori rep ‘Nu’ Winterburn. The latter is Sam’s uncle.
It does not take long to get an understanding about the types of things Rahui holds close to its ticker.
“It’s really important to us that we are a family club and whanau-orientated. So part of the club is Manaakitanga (being good hosts) and Whanaungatanga (family-orientated),” says Kerr.
The former was evident during my visit. Not long after pulling up a seat, Kerr pulls out a box of savouries and asks if I would like one. Rugby News is offered a cold one, too, which this hungry and thirsty traveller gratefully accepts.
But getting back on topic, Bill Doyle agrees with Kerr when he says this club is about family: “The support you get from older players… once you had the colours on you were one of the boys.”
Someone who has been one of the boys for some time is Spiers. He’s been part of the club’s fabric since 1943, so is probably the most qualified man to give me a brief rundown on Rahui’s history.
He says the club has been a regular on the Horowhenua rugby scene since 1932. It originally fielded a team in 1927 when a group of gentlemen, mainly dairy farmers, met in the waiting room of the Otaki railway station, but only lasted one season after the Horowhenua Rugby Union gave it the chop because it defaulted a game.
Back then, the Otaki Rugby Club was based at the Otaki Domain and was the stronger of the two clubs, but since the end of World War II it has been all Rahui. That’s because many of the returned servicemen gravitated towards the club after it held ceremonies to honour their efforts on the frontline.
Originally based at Taylor’s Farm and then the Otaki Racecourse, Rahui moved to the other side of the railway tracks when it inherited the Domain after Otaki’s eulogy was read in the 1940s.
“I always reckoned when Rahui and Otaki played each other it was safer on the field than it was on the sidelines,” quips Spiers.
In modern times, however, Kerr says it is Levin Wanderers, Foxton and Toa which pull the big crowds to the Domain.
“You’re related to the guys that play for Wanderers, you’re related to the guys that play for Foxton, so it’s like an extended family battle when you meet. Afterwards what happens out there stays out there and in here you have a good time and you enjoy yourselves.”
That they certainly do. Bill Doyle reckons you will often see the players and supporters strumming their six-strings and singing along in the clubrooms. A haka will also be put on if someone plays their 50th game for the Senior A team.
“It’s homely and everybody is made to feel welcome. In a lot of other clubs guys tend to bunch up, whereas here they will spread out and there are a lot of their ladies and young kids here too.”
As you probably guessed, there is a strong Maori flavour running through this rugby fraternity, especially in recent times. Only two players in the Senior A team which were beaten semifinalists this year were Pakeha.
But Spiers remembers there was a 50-50 split back in his playing days.
“We had a Maori coach and he said we had to have the Pakehas to do the work and the Maoris to do the brilliant things to score the tries,” he laughs, with his colleagues beside him also having a brief chuckle.
Yet while things tend to be done in a more Maori way nowadays, Sam Doyle says it is not the be-all and end-all.
“There’s no segregation. Rugby is first and foremost and you are judged on your character as a man and ability as a player.”
Kerr echoes those sentiments: “Everybody is accepted on their rugby-playing ability. Although things have changed around here, it hasn’t changed the attitude of the players towards each other. You see them here with their arms around each other and going out the door with their arms around each other.”
Sam Doyle has his own memories of the club who he played all of his junior rugby for before going on to bigger and brighter things.
“When I was younger I used to think the Wanderers were the All Blacks and we’d beat them, so I thought we must be the best team,” he laughs.
Rahui might not always be the best team on the paddock in recent times, but it still plays an important role in the ‘Sunny’ Otaki community.
Long may it continue.
As far as greatest moments go, club president Rex Kerr believes you cannot look past the 1950s when Rahui was at the peak of its powers.
And it is hard to argue with him on that score. Between 1952 and 1958, the Otaki-based club won six Horowhenua premier banners.
“That was the golden era for Rahui, the greatest period in the club’s history,” he says.
The only year it did not lift the title was in ’55 when it was edged by Levin College Old Boys in the race to claim the trophy.
Remembers club legend Jim Spiers: “We had a good team. At that stage, we had an influx of school teachers and bank people and they lifted the profile quite a bit.”
Since those days, however, the well has been dry for Rahui. Its only club title since then was in 1979 when it shared the spoils with rivals Wanderers.
In 2007 – its 75th jubilee – Rahui lost 19-16 to Waikanae in the club final. Former Horowhenua Kapiti first five Dion Nepia had the chance to take the game into extra time late in the piece, but missed his long-range penalty goal.
The fact that Jim Spiers has a street named after him says it all.
Jim Spiers Lane – which is off Mill Rd and leads to the Otaki Domain – is a tribute to his sterling service to the club.
“You name it, he’s done it,” says club president Rex Kerr.
“He’s played for the club, he’s administered for the club and he is a life member of the club and the Horowhenua Rugby Union. Everybody will remember Jim.”
Joining the club in 1943, Spiers played senior rugby until injury forced him to hang up the boots in 1953.
From there, he coached junior rugby and acted as the club’s president, chairman and patron, to list but a few of his off-field roles, over the years.
“He was even the scorekeeper on the old scoreboard,” quips Kerr.
Says Spiers: “I’ve got a lot of enjoyment out of rugby and being part of the club.”
There are plenty of mouth-watering clashes on offer this weekend.
Which player was unlucky not to make the Wallabies’ preliminary squad for the British and Irish Lions series?
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