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Rugby set for blockbuster start

Saturday 4 June 2022 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Rugby Union, Sports

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Rugby set for blockbuster start
Tua Ravula featured for Town against Country last week. He will be a key player for the Eels. Photo: CI News/22052916

The Rarotonga Club 15s domestic competition is set to get a blockbuster start when arch rivals Avatiu Nikao Eels and Tupapa Panthers meet in round one this weekend.

Cook Islands’ leading rugby union clubs will be battling tooth and nail to get their season off to a winning start this afternoon at The Swamp.

The Senior A derby will be held after the curtain raise under-19 match between Arorangi Cowboys and Ngatangiia Matavera Dragons.

The Eels and the Panthers had most of their players featuring for the Town and the Country sides in the preseason match last week. Town which had players from the two sides won the match 27-19.

Eels assistant coach and player Clive Nicholas said the preseason match set a good platform for the 2022 season, adding the onus is now on the participating teams to bring back life to one of the leading sports in the country.

“Most of the players are struggling (due to Covid) and it comes down to who shows up for the game (today). Their focus is now work, the welfare of their families and we as sports administrators, we can’t force them to commit to rugby. We just have to be understanding,” Nicholas said.

“But at the same time, we as premier players don’t want to show up on Saturday with our boots to play, this is not the attitude we want to show our upcoming players …  that’s the attitude of B-grade or social teams.

“Rugby in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands has been a dominant sport for years because it brings crowd, rivalry, tension, competitiveness and causes everything good and bad.

“When I grew up, it was like if you don’t play rugby, you’re not a man and I always wanted to keep it that way to bring that life back to rugby.”

The Eels, Panthers and Arorangi Cowboys are three clubs confirmed for this year’s Senior A grade competition.

“I think local rugby is surviving and hanging by a thread because of Avatiu, Tupapa and Arorangi, the rivalry between the three clubs is always there. The other clubs need to step up,” Nicholas said.

The Eels led by their skipper Leki Vahefoou and his assistant Tua Ravula have been training alongside the core players in preparation for the competition.

Nicholas, who has been playing competitive rugby for over 20 years starting in 1999, said the core players will be leading the charge against the Panthers this afternoon.

“Last week (the preseason match) was the best thing that happened since league. Both the Town and Country were trying to take each other’s heads. It was competitive and a very good start to the season.

“Against Tupapa, it will be an interesting match. We really don’t take that they are struggling with players … when it comes down to the game, they will show up in full force.”

Tupapa Panthers coach Darren Piri said minimal training was no excuse for the side as they look to make a good start to their title defence campaign.

“Last week in the Town versus Country match we were able to test the new rules and it will be same against the Eels. We have most of our players from last season back, almost 60 per cent, and we are looking forward to this match,” Piri said.

“If you’re not doing anything, come down to Avatiu Field and support the teams.”

The Eels will be coached by their record-breaking league coach Albert Nicholas.

The Under-19 match will kick off at 2.30pm followed by the Senior A clash at 4pm.