Staying put with the big boys
Rugby in the idyllic coastal town of Tairua is riding high on the crest of a wave and giving its loyal supporters something to crow about.
After gaining promotion to the Thames Valley first division in 2007, Tairua Rugby & Sports proved emphatically they are no easy beats, reaching the semifinals of the premier competition last season.
“Once we won the second division there was no way we weren’t going up,” recalls Nev Calder, who has managed the club’s sole senior side for the last seven seasons. “If we didn’t we would have lost too many of our senior players.”
Tairua took the bull by the horns and accepted promotion. With rival clubs Whangamata, Mercury Bay and Thames all within a 30 minute drive, player depth is a constant issue for every club on the coast.
Things have really fallen into place as the club has steadily improved on and off the field. “Three or four key senior players have made a big difference but so has the support of sponsors and our committee,” says Calder.
Last season the club had 42 registered players, although not all were available on a weekly basis. Due to its recent success, it seems the worm has turned and it’s exciting to see an influx of youth at the club. Five youngsters who played First XV school rugby last season are now training with the seniors. Local boys have returned home to play in the last few years, including former Counties Manukau prop Alan McLean. The experience of McLean, along with Swamp Fox stalwarts, halfback Aaron McDonald and loose forward Hayden Cullen, offer direction and cool heads in the heat of battle.
The NZRU requirement that five front rowers be stripped every Saturday is a challenge for clubs nationwide and Tairua is no exception. Given its picture-perfect location with beaches just a stone’s throw from the clubrooms, not to mention the excellent fishing and hunting on offer, life in Tairua would be hard to beat for any aspiring young prop worth his salt.
Treasurer Wayne Short recalls fascinating accounts of the 122-year-old club’s early years. “Back then they used to travel by boat depending on the tides or horseback to away matches. This meant leaving on the Friday and in some cases not returning until Monday.”
The club has a history of hardy characters like legendary former halfback Alan Beach who made his senior debut in 1935 for Coroglen-Whenuakite club at the tender age of 14. When Beach joined Tairua he brought with him a handful of his old teammates. He resumed playing for the club upon returning from the war and long after hanging up his boots the stalwart continued his involvement by running the bar, marking fields and acted as club patron, a role which legendary former All Blacks fullback Bob Scott has also held. Beach is one of 11 life members at the club.
Short also acknowledges the support of five key sponsors as well as over 40 individual player sponsors who keep the club in good health.
“Players still pay their subs around here though,” Short points out.
For all home games, Tairua certainly does things in style. Players and supporters alike are treated to an after-match feed of wild pork, lamb and chicken on the spit with all the trimmings.
The club receives incredible local support, and passing tourists are blown away by the large partisan hordes hugging the touchlines.
Tairua also runs senior netball, touch as well as junior rugby, netball and league. The clubrooms have benefited from a recent $50,000 interior refurbishment. Their walls are lined with a huge collection of international and provincial match-worn memorabilia, including one of Allan Hewson’s All Blacks test jerseys taking pride and place above the bar with a NZ Barbarians shirt hanging nearby.
“The Barbarians played here in 1983 to mark the extension of our clubrooms,” Short recalls. “It was really the Auckland team in disguise, all the big names like John Kirwan and the Whettons played that day.”
Pulling the strings for the past few seasons is Pop Taipari who has the distinction of captaining (1957) and then coaching (1989) the last two Thames Valley primary school sides to win the prestigious Northern Roller Mills tournament. Now in his 60s, with sweat glistening off him after taking a sevens session, Taipari eagerly awaits the coming season. “Things are looking good,” he states with a glint in his eye. “We will be ready.”
Affectionately known as Tad, Trevor Barclay began his career playing for United (Coroglen-Whenuakite) before transferring to the Tairua club where he soon become one of the driving forces of local rugby.
The Tairua club captain since 2001, Tad happily undertakes a wide range of club-related duties every week, including carrying the bucket around to collect gatetakings from spectators, which can amount to as much as $400 for a home game. The tough as teak former front rower amazed medical staff after an horrific accident where his head somehow managed to collide with a post-hole rammer at full force. After a year in a neck brace, Tad was back to his best. However doctors reviewing X-rays were shocked to find he already had fractured vertebrae which Tad attributed to an old rugby injury he could vividly recall from the 1960s. They breed ’em tough in Tairua!
Three narrow losses to the powerhouse of Valley rugby, Paeroa West, feature heavily in the herculean efforts of the small Tairua club. The seniors went down narrowly to West in terrible conditions controversially in 1978. Five years later, in 1983, in the Black Heart Rum competition, Tairua (at that time just a third division side) held a big lead at halftime, giving West the fright of its life before being overtaken in the second half. And last season, buoyed on by a huge home crowd with SKY TV present, Tairua was cruelly pipped at the post by West in a titanic struggle. Tairua has some silverware to show for its fine season, though, with the Coastal Shield (contested between the four coastal clubs) and the Skeleton Cup (versus Whangamata) locked away safely in its trophy cabinet.
There are plenty of mouth-watering clashes on offer this weekend.
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