Sport | Māori Rugby

King Country Rams lock horns with Taranaki Māori Bulls

Aarin Dunster of Ngāti Tūwharetoa has played more than 100 games for the King Country Rams but is now coaching the team.

His skills were tested in the Rams’ first pre-season game against the Taranaki Māori Rugby Club held in Te Kūiti at the weekend, in the lead-up to this year’s provincial Heartland rugby competition.

“We have had a couple of weeks’ preparation, and we have got the basics in place and just hoping they get out there and make the most of the opportunity,” Dunster said.

Taranaki Māori opened the game with an arousing haka and then ran the Rams around the field in the first 10 minutes until the King Country men took advantage of their strong back line and let the ball do the work, pulling off a sensational try to get the match scoring underway.

Taranaki Māori missed opportunities to counter and score at times but head coach Te Waiti Mareikura was happy with his team’s efforts.

“Rugby has united us. This is the second year we are playing the King Country Rams, who are a formidable team in the provincial rugby heartland Competition, coming fourth last year,” Mareikura said.

Retired, unretired, now coach

Dunster, a former King Country captain, retired in 2017, having played 109 games for the province.

But he rejoined the team for four games in 2021 when his eldest son Karney was unavailable due to work commitments.

In the process he equalled Sir Colin Meads’ son, Glynn Meads, at sixth on the province’s all-time games list.

Asked how he played so many games his answer is what one would expect from any rugby loyal from the famous Colin (Pinetree) and Stan Meads countryside club, “Oh I don’t know, maybe stubbornness but that pride in the jersey, wanting to give back to it, province, and people. That’s what it does for me”.

Taranaki Māori was celebrating 99 years of history and King Country Rams 101 years.

King Country Rams captain Liam Rowlands was excited about having a Māori Taranaki team to go head to head with.

‘Blessing in disguise’

“They travelled up here to run us through our paces - it is a blessing in disguise, it’s great for rugby, thank you Taranaki Maōri.”

And Taranaki Māori captain Tahu Kaa found coming to Te Rohe Pōtae definitely a place the team felt comfortable in. He acknowledged the strong tikanga of Ngāti Maniapoto, Rereahu, Ngāti Raukawa and Te Rohe Pōtae a Kiingi Tāwhiao.

“It is awesome to be a part of this culture. The more we can play games like this and the more we can celebrate being Māori, the better it is for all of us,” Kaa said.

The provincial heartland rugby competition starts on Saturday, August 12, and the new King Country Rams coach is happy to start his season off with today’s win under his belt.