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the heart of the matter the heart of the matter

the
Heart
of the
matter
We’re told rugby is struggling.
Provincial unions are in desperate financial
trouble and the club game is in crisis.

But is it?
Sure, rugby’s changing. Take a look around.
A former All Black’s coaching Australia; Hong
Kong will host the Bledisloe Cup. But struggling?
We needed to see for ourselves how the
grassroots game is coping with dramatic
changes to rugby’s landscape, so we spent a day
with the Mid-Northern club outside Whangarei.

by ROBERT TIGHE
picture essay ANDREW COFFEY

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the heart of the matter the heart of the matter

D
ave Rouse was on his
honeymoon in 1962 when
Rain and rugby are the mainstays of
Hukerenui life. While the locals cannot do
A local legend, “Did” is in her 90s but
still comes down to the club whenever she
from Towai-Maromaku and the Morgan
family from Hukerenui. The Goings and
Almost on cue Sid Going limps into the
the newly formed Mid- much about the weather, many of them do can. A sign to the right of the bar asks “Can the Morgans have been the bedrock of clubroom wearing a black baseball cap and a
the club since it was formed. The three
Northern club elected
him as its first chairman.
what they can to keep the rugby club alive.
Hukerenui is 31kms north of Whangarei.
you graze a beast for Mid-Northern? If so
contact Stu.” There is a whiteboard listing Going brothers, Ken, Sid and Brian
winter jacket a couple of sizes too big for him.
Forty-six years later, Keep driving another 235km up State the player sponsorship details for 2008. had nine sons and all of them played He looks very different from the colour-tinted
Rouse remains one of the first clubmen to Highway 1 and you’ll end up at Cape Reinga. Every player in the squad has their $80 for Mid-Northern.
arrive at the grounds in Hukerenui before The only landmarks are the Hukerenui club membership fee paid by someone in the The Morgan brothers, Joe, Fred, John, black and white picture which takes up most of
a home game. Pub “home of the Huka burger”, the local community. It is a nice touch and an Arnold and Brian all togged out for the
club and also produced a number of
the wall just inside the door of the clubrooms.
Not this particular Saturday morning Hukerenui Garage and the Mid-Northern innovative way of keeping the community
though. Rain delays Dave. rugby club. involved with their local club. sons who went on to play in the red and
blue jersey. “Rugby up here is nothing like it was 20 “Super Sid” has an artificial knee now
When he comes in from putting out the The rusty posts and towering floodlights The pictures on the wall offer a glimpse
“It’s a marvellous little place, isn’t it?” years ago. It was a lot tougher then than it is and he has had his hip replaced. Last year
corner posts, he excuses himself for being up on the hill are just about visible from into Mid-Northern’s past. The All Blacks
says a man in a Mid-Western blazer looking now. The training is different. The training he got his back fused and his shoulder
late. After a heavy downpour overnight he the main road. Turn left into Domain Road, from the club are given the same treatment
up at the famous faces on the wall. He for rugby used to be running around the done but he still manages to escape from
was listening to the radio that morning drive past the cemetery on your left and a as the great Brazilian soccer players
introduces himself as Norm Morgan (no hills. Now they do drills and exercises and his retirement paradise in Paihia to come
expecting the game to be postponed or couple of hundred metres up the hill are with just one name needed under their
relation to the Morgans of Hukerenui), a stretching and what not. But we had some and watch Mid-Northern play. He was
the venue changed. “We had 35mms of the Hukerenui Memorial Hall, the Mid- photographs. Three Mid-Northern men
past president and now patron of the Mid- brilliant players from around here.” equally committed to the club during his
rain last night,” he says, “and another Northern clubrooms and playing fields one have played for the All Blacks: Joe (Morgan)
Western club, today’s opposition. Almost on cue Sid Going limps into the playing days.
15mm this morning.” and two. 1974–76, Ken (Going) 1976, and of course
“Lovely clubrooms they’ve got here. It’ll clubroom wearing a black baseball cap “I never missed a training session. If I
Check the rain gauge - it is the first thing The Northland hills serve as a dramatic Sid (Going) MBE, 1967–77. Other clubmen to
be well run. It has always been a well-run and a winter jacket a couple of sizes too came back from an All Blacks tour I’d go
many of the locals and all of the farmers backdrop to the fields but it is a pretty grim play representative rugby and to feature on
club. They’ve always been well thought of,” big for him. He looks very different from straight to club training the next night and
in Hukerenui do when they wake up in looking place, particularly on a damp, grey the wall include Brian Going (New Zealand
he says with little prompting. the colour-tinted black and white picture I’d want to play that weekend,” he says.
the morning. This was one of the worst Saturday morning. Maori), Todd Miller (NZ Maori, NZ Secondary
Morgan has been on the board of the which takes up most of the wall just inside “I stopped playing for the All Blacks in
affected areas in last year’s floods. Between It is coming up to 11.30am and the Schools), David Holwell (New Zealand A),
Mid-Western club for 62 years and has seen the door of the clubrooms. 1977 and played club rugby for three or
250–300mms of rain fell in the space of a clubrooms are all but empty. Dave Rouse Jared Going (NZ Sevens, NZ Maori), Jason
a hell of a lot of club rugby in his time. He It shows Going in the Cambridge Blue four more years but my knees got punched
couple of days last March. That is a month’s is helping the local publican Bob McDonald Hammond (NZ Maori, NZ A) and Brad Miller
admits he would quite happily watch rugby jersey of Northland, holding the ball in both up so I stopped training. I still played
worth of rainfall in less than 48 hours. Now stock the bar. Lorraine “Did” Morgan is in (NZ Secondary Schools).
all day long but he says the local game has hands and surveying his options in a Ranfurly a few games for the reserves just to help
whenever the sky opens around here they the kitchen, chipping some potatoes and The Mid-Northern club was formed in
suffered in recent years. Shield match against Auckland in 1971. them out.”
fear the worst. manning the deep fat fryer. 1962, bringing together the Going family

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the heart of the matter the heart of the matter

Sid’s example has been followed by those his bung knees and more than a sprinkling Top players such as the team captain, hanging off a nail and the place smells of “I want you to manage the discipline of done all year. We’ll have two minutes of
who have come after him, including former of his rugby genius. Milton played Super Karaan “Rata” Going, son of Brian and Sid’s liniment and mud. A physio table at the far the guys, especially with the chatter. If you silence so start thinking about the game.
Hurricanes and Blues first five-eighths 12 rugby for the Chiefs and the Crusaders nephew. Two years ago Rata was a midfield end of the room is cluttered with strapping, do that I’ll be happy.” Start switching on now. After that it is over
David Holwell. The classy playmaker is before a serious knee injury put paid to his back but the club was short a number eight. industrial sized tubs of petroleum jelly and Frankie Roberts is the captain today. to you Frankie.”
back with Northland and Mid-Northern professional career in his mid-20s. Jared Rata put his hand up and captained the side red plastic drinks bottles sponsored by A tall, rangy loose forward who played in After a 20 minute warm-up on the pitch
and back farming full time in Hukerenui. had a run with the Blues and also starred to the premier title last year, winning the Black Heart rum. France last year with Agen, his claim to the team come back into the changing
Going is impressed that he has come home for the New Zealand Sevens side before his Joe Morgan Memorial Trophy for the first The players pre-game refreshments fame was playing against and beating Tana shed, some of them with mud caked on
to finish his playing career. knees packed in as well. time since the Northland competition was include bottles of Wave, Pump, and PowerAde Umaga’s star-studded Toulon side. This their lower legs, others blowing just a little
“It is fantastic. That is the type of loyalty Neither player has trained much, if at split into two zones three years ago. and cans of V. There is a crate in one corner is a very different level but he looks fully bit harder than they should be, all of them
you get from players in this club. You don’t all, in recent years and the last thing they This year he suffered nerve damage to with half a dozen large bottles of Lion Red, focused as “Sparrow” gathers the team looking relaxed but ready for the game.
get full of yourself. You’d get pulled down should be doing is slogging it out in the his left shoulder in just the second game empties from the last home game. around him. Over to you Frankie.
pretty quick if you did.” mud in a reserve game and risking another of the season. His cousin Clint Going, Ken’s The referee, Murray McDowell, strides “We’ve got to be on to it today, eh felluhs. “We have to get down there and get into
Unfortunately there are not too many serious injury. But this is their club. And son, was given a two-week suspension for into the dressing room to speak to the Secure that ball. We have to shut them down them at lineouts and kickoffs. Wingers
professionals running around Super with 14 of the first team squad missing retaliating in a recent game against Marist. coaches. A confident Cantabrian, McDowell and play rugby and show them what it is all and loosies, we need to push up together.
14 rugby today who share Going’s and through injury or suspension, Milton and Despite not being able to play, Clint and Rata travelled from Christchurch on Friday on about in premier rugby. We need to keep ’em down’ there. Start the
Holwell’s commitment to the club game Jared agreed to give the reserves a dig out. are down in the changing sheds with the a weekend exchange programme and will “First of all felluhs, the ball is a big game, start it fast and hard,” urges Frankie
and Going is concerned for its future. “We are having a hard time with injuries boys offering advice and encouragement. head back tomorrow. McDowell speaks thing today. Every forward has to be on to before some of the other players start to
“It is becoming a real struggle for club this season and it is our top players who are The walls of the changing shed are with the coaches and then has a brief one- it today, eh Frankie? Big support, everyone, join in and talk over each other.
football. What the hierarchy has to realise getting injured,” explains Craig “Sparrow” painted red and white and the floors are on-one with some of the players. eh Derek? Talk is a big thing today, “We need to be accurate as ... smash ’em
is that it all starts with club football. You Edwards, the coach of the premiers along littered with discarded tape and the odd “Where’s your halfback?” eh felluhs?” around … let ’em know where they’ve come
don’t get anybody up there unless they are with Daryl Pita. stray sock. There is an old pair of jocks “When you are in the channel I want you Backs coach Pita chips in with … discipline too boys ... if we have a penalty
playing down here first.” to put the ball in straight and honest. If you his advice. against us don’t waste time moaning, get
Out on the number 2 pitch the Mid- do that I’ll be happy.” “We’ve got to make our first-up tackles. back 10.”
Northern reserves are in the process of
dishing out a 56-0 thrashing to Mid-Western
“First of all felluhs, the ball is a big thing “First-five please.”
“I want you to manage your players. When
Hit them hard in the first five minutes.
Don’t think you are going to go out there
Then it is time to take to the field. Just
before the team leaves the dressing room
with two of Sid’s sons, Jared and Milton in today. Every forward has to be on to it today, eh you are kicking off I want you to make sure and put on 50 points because it is going to they come together, arms around each
the thick of it.
Jared and Milton learned about loyalty
Frankie? Big support, everyone, eh Derek? Talk that your players are behind you. If you can
do that, that’ll be great.”
be hard work out there.
“We are the defending champions and
others shoulders and chant 1-2-3 KG, a
tribute to Ken Going, Clint’s old man and
from their father but they also inherited is a big thing today, eh felluhs?” “And where’s the captain?” they are going to play the hardest they have Sid’s brother, who is dying from cancer.
the heart of the matter the heart of the matter

On the sideline, Jared and Milton Going


wander over to introduce themselves. They
openside flanker. Two first half tries to
Kyran Pita, Daryl’s son, puts his side in a
a professional career I never forgot where I
came from and I know I would never have
“Club footy has struggled up here over the last Out the back “Apex” is looking after
the lamb and pig on a spit and the
talk about how sore they are going to be comfortable position at half-time and Mid- got to that stage without the club. few years since the game went professional but it pakeha hangi of potato, kumara and
after their game for the reserves and they Northern go on to win the game 24-8. “When I left and went to the Hurricanes pumpkin. In the kitchen his wife Leanne
wonder why Mid-Northern aren’t making Holwell slopes in unannounced midway I always said I would come back here. I
will be a big shame if club football fades away.” is helping out Cheery McCluggage (nee
better use of the strong wind at their backs through the second half and chews the cud started when I was five years old and if the Going) with the cabbage and the gravy
in the opening half. with Jared about the rain, New Holland body holds up and I can play a few more and serving up a plate for everyone in the
Conditions are not good. The pitch is tractors and the Queen of Calves feed years for the club I will.” wonderful. It is neat to come out to these cows. For almost 30 years he tried, and clubrooms who wants a feed after the
sticky and soft in places and the wind is supplement. Jared has taken over the As the final whistle blows Holwell heads areas and experience it.” mostly succeeded, to run the place on his game. Free, gratis and for nothing, local
cold and gusting. Still both teams pile family farm from his father Sid. off to catch up with some of his mates. Back upstairs in the clubrooms I am own. He played for the club, he coached, but or visitor.
into each other cheered on by a couple of Holwell is sitting out this week’s game “You’re hanging around for a drink?” he introduced to Chris Mason, a former player, he was never the chairman, the secretary or When the after match speeches are
hundred enthusiastic supporters just a after he popped a couple of ribs against asks. “Good. I’ll see you inside then.” coach and chairman of the club. I want to the president. He didn’t want or need any finished “Sparrow” grabs the mic from
few feet away from the action. It is easy to Kamo in one of the earlier rounds. His two On my way into the after match function ask Mason about Tori White, Mid-Northern’s fancy titles. Williams and tells those involved in this
forget just how brawny and brutal the game shoulders are also causing him trouble and I catch up with referee McDowell and ask club captain for almost 30 years and a Since he died a couple of years ago, evening’s dress-up to go get changed.
is close up. he will have to get them looked after sooner him what he thought of the game. man identified by many as the heartbeat others including Rouse, Mason, Richard Ten minutes later five of the premier
Sitting in our La-Z-Boys in front of the rather than later. But he wants to play “That was genuine premier rugby. I give of the club. “Apex” Potter, the current club captain and side strut their stuff dressed as Spiderman,
TV, we are insulated from the raw essence another season or two with Mid-Northern bouquets for the spirit in which they played “Tori did pretty much everything. He was the current chairman Glen Williams have a couple of Rambos, a Speedo Cop and
of the game. Standing on the sideline at a and he hopes to be back in Northland colours the game and their determination to run one of those people; you meet them once or stepped up to try to fill Tori’s shoes. what looks suspiciously like a dirty old
club game could be the perfect tonic for all for this year’s Air New Zealand Cup. the ball and be positive. Look at the spirit twice in your life if you are lucky. People “We’ve tried to replace him but when he man. The place is rocking and as I head up
those who complain they are sick of rugby. What is it like to be back in small town amongst the crowd and the players. I think just liked him,” explains Mason. “I can’t say died we realised we had to go back to the to get a plate of food, I have a final word
There are no action replays, no halftime Hukerenui after his years in Wellington with this is magic. A lot of people will say All that is the reason for success on the field way things used to be and people had to with David Holwell.
highlights, just backs and forwards and the Hurricanes, in Dublin with Leinster and Blacks and Tri Nations and Super 14 rugby but he was a big part of what happened off get off their arses and start doing things “This club has got great heart and great
brothers and friends doing their best for in Auckland with the Blues? is a different game and it is. the field. He marked the pitch, he peeled around the club,” says Mason. support and you go down to training and
each other and for their club. “You get sick of the travelling. It is nice “These guys don’t mind playing in the the spuds, and he ran the bar. He was a I look around and I see Rouse behind the there are 40 or 50 guys there,” he says.
Today is a day for forwards, and for to be in one place again,” admits Holwell. mud and the rain, they don’t mind getting marvellous guy.” bar serving handles of beer for the after “Club footy has struggled up here over
hookers in particular. Injuries have forced “I remember my father telling me the changed in a shed out the back, and they Mid-Northern came first for White. He match speeches. Glen Williams is manning the last few years since the game went
Mid-Northern to play with four hookers, club is where it starts and where it ends and don’t mind not having a powder room. used to lock up the rugby club at one o’clock the microphone as the MC for the evening professional but it will be a big shame if
three in the front row and another as an I am a big believer in that. Even though I had This club has history and club rugby is in the morning and go home and milk his and doing a bloody good job of it too. club football fades away.”

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