BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
IT’S NOT a country club, nor is it a city one.
Instead Havelock North is a village club through and through.
A 10-minute drive from Hastings, the club takes the best aspects of rural life and blends them with the finest bits and bobs from the big smoke to create its own unique culture. It has been doing so since men clad in blue and black first ran out on to the field in 1894.
There is much to like about Havelock North and the gentlemen that Rugby News chews the fat with at the club’s Anderson Park base. They are extremely proud of what their multicultural rugby-playing establishment brings to the Hawke’s Bay region.
And with bloody good reason too.
Business is usually taken care of on the field in a manner that is more razzle-dazzle as opposed to crash-and-bash. The premier team is usually in the hunt for championship honours when its competition reaches the pointy end of the season. So are Havelock North’s other teams, for that matter.
Off the paddock, things are ticking along nicely. Havelock North is well-run by a proactive committee that is not afraid to put itself out there. Loyalty is also strong in these parts, with the premier team players boasting a collective tally of 1540 games between them this season.
Given its locality, the club is able to draw players from the big smoke and those who milk cows, shear sheep, put up fence posts and call a paddock their office. It means the hospitality and old-fashioned, family values often associated with country clubs mix with the new-age ways of the city to give its members the best of both worlds. Indeed, modern day meets yesteryear here.
“We don’t see ourselves as a city team or a country team – we’re very much a village team,” says premier team coach and committee member Conrad Waitoa.
On the field, Havelock North is one of the top dogs prowling the Hawke’s Bay scene. If it is not leading the chasing pack, then you can bet it won’t be too far behind.
Not only does it like winning, but it likes to do so in style. Rather than play kick-and-clap rugby that, historically at least, has been prevalent come the big stuff at the Rugby World Cup, Havelock North loves to give the ball some width. If one needs proof of how the club plays, then gaze your eyes over the sweet-stepping and lightning-quick Hawke’s Bay wing Gillies Kaka, who has the club’s colours running through his veins.
“Since the late 1980s, we have played an expansive game,” says club captain and life member Tony Waites. “If it is a drab game, the players will actually be real apologetic to the fans. The next week you can guarantee it will be danger time for the opposition.”
That is especially the case when opposition teams have to travel to Anderson Park. It has become a graveyard, with Havelock North only losing five games there in the last 10 years.
“People usually prefer to play us elsewhere,” says Waitoa.
Last year, the club enjoyed a majestic season, with the premier team lifting the Maddison Trophy and the senior reserves, senior thirds and colts – the second most important team in the club, says Waites – also performing with distinction in their respective grades.
Despite the trophy cabinet being emptied in 2011, the club still came away with the Black and White Shield for the third successive year. The Shield is awarded to the best-performed club, one whose teams have accumulated the most points in their respective grades.
“The club is performing at a high level. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to be competitive across every grade,” says chairman Mark Harris.
It is also ticking all the boxes off the field. Havelock North is not afraid to advertise its brand. I’m told local rugby scribe Shane Hurndell is usually inundated with stuff at his Hawke’s Bay Today office.
“We want to be the team that is in the photo that appears in the paper, even if we are not playing the main game. Our approach has upset a few teams over the years,” says Waitoa.
AS FAR as club co-ordinator Paul McCarthy is concerned, the back-to-back championship victories in 1990 and 1991 were a “real turning point” in Havelock North’s history.
Indeed, up until that point the club had yo-yoed between divisions. But when it lifted the Maddison Trophy in 1990 and repeated the dosage the following year it was a sign of things to come.
“That was a real turning point, as it set the standard and Havelock North hasn’t looked back. From that point on there has been continued success,” says McCarthy.
He’s not wrong there. The club won back-to-back Hawke’s Bay titles in 1995 and 1996 and has not missed out on the semifinals since!
THE LATE Jarrod Cunningham epitomises the spirit of Havelock North Rugby Club, says club co-ordinator Paul McCarthy.
An All Blacks trialist in 1993 and 1995, Cunningham also played for the New Zealand Maori, Hurricanes, Blues, Hawke’s Bay, Central Vikings and London Irish during a decorated career.
A capable goalkicker, he scored a staggering 1569 points in New Zealand first-class rugby between 1990 and 1998, before taking his considerable talents offshore.
Cunningham passed away at his home in 2007, after a five-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a form of motor neurone disease.
“He epitomises everything that is good about this club,” says McCarthy. “He fought a battle against a debilitating disease and never gave up.”
Club chairman Mark Harris remembers Cunningham would take the time to give youngsters goalkicking tips: “That was just the type of guy he was.”
ALL BLACKS (2)
Hika Elliot 2008, ’10
Bryn Evans 2009
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.