Soft approaches have not been part of Eels’ game plan this season but they are “forced” to go easy on the Panthers in the knockout match today at Victoria Park.
No-nonsense Eels coach/player Clive Nicholas feels they are being victimised for their physical play by the match officials.
Last week against the unbeaten Panthers, Eels had three of their players yellow-carded. They lost the match 10-13.
“We can’t play the physical game because it seems sensitive to Cook Islands Rugby Union and the referees,” Nicholas said.
“We couldn’t understand why we were getting pinged so much, especially when some of the Tupapa hard men did the same to us. They were also physical but they were getting away with it.”
Nicholas said physical play had been a trademark for Cook Islands rugby and the Eels as a club wanted to maintain that culture going forward.
But he said inconsistent decision on tackles resulting from their physical play by the match officials had affected their game plan and the vision to maintain the traditional style of play.
Nicholas also urged referees to leave their club and village affiliations behind when they take the field.
“We have also noticed that the referees hardly consult their assistants before awarding tries. There were cases when Tupapa players and fans cried ‘try’ and the referee awarded it without taking a second opinion.”
On paper the Eels look a stronger side but the young guns in the Panthers outfit have been blazing with sublime performances this season.
The mobile Panthers forward pack will gain strength with the return of James Kora who is likely to feature in today’s fixture.
Their forwards have rattled solid clubs in the competition and have kept the Panthers backline firing this season.
The home side will again rely on their speedy backline to turn on the gas and get them the much needed points.
Despite losing twice to the Panthers the Eels have proven to be a side to reckon with.
Led by Tua Ravula, the visitors will be led by their fiery backline and their formidable forwards in hunt for their first win against Panthers this season.
“The game plan is to play clean and smart rugby. Since we get penalised for being physical, we will take it easy. We don’t want to take any risk at this stage of the competition,” Nicholas said.
Despite heading into the match as the favourites, Panthers coach Andrew Iroa earlier said they would not be complacent against the Eels.
He said the players knew the importance of this clash and will not let the Eels slip away with a win that easily.
In the other Senior A match, Takuvaine Reds will host the Arorangi Cowboys. The winner of this match will take on the loser from the Panthers-Eels game.
The winner from the Panthers-Eels match will go through to the final.
Venue: Tupapa Field – Bond Store - Game of the Week – Tupapa Panthers-Avatiu /Nikao Eels – 4pm Senior A (Refs: Pare Rongokea, Assist Refs: Peter Godfrey/Junior Takairangi. Referee Coordinator: Ben Koteka/Papa Tom Wills); Takuvaine Field – 12pm: 6–12yrs: “Get into Rugby” Programme – All Clubs (boys and girls) are welcome to attend, bus transport will be provided, sausage sizzle afterwards), 1.45pm U13 (Refs: Kora Kora, Assistant Refs: Club Officials); Arorangi Cowboys-Ngatangiia Matavera Dragons – 2.30pm Under 19 (Ref: Paul Allsworth, Assist Refs: Kora Kora/William Taripo), Takuvaine Reds-Arorangi Cowboys – 4pm Senior A (Refs: Tua Ngaputa, Assist Ref: Dawn Crummer/Paul Allsworth. Referee Coordinator: Simiona Teiotu/Paul Peyroux/Alan Nanai)