Rugby’s return to Pukekura Park a steam squib


Pita Gus Sowakula came off the bench for Taranaki against Northland at Pukekura Park.

Andy Jackson/Getty Images

Pita Gus Sowakula came off the bench for Taranaki against Northland at Pukekura Park.

OPINION: What a difference a year makes.

Three hundred and sixty-five days after delighting a packed Pukekura Park with a thrilling win over Hawke’s Bay, the Taranaki rugby side delivered a damp squib on Sunday with a 13-11 loss to Northland.

Yes, fans packed the park for the team’s second return in 76 years, but this time there were no clear skies, no pulsating length of the field tries and certainly not as much hope on the horizon for this national provincial championship.

It’s a pity the New Plymouth District Council’s $248 million plan to fix the plumbing around the joint did not include a budget for improving the drainage at its “jewel in the crown” venue.

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The countless days of rain in the supposed sunshine capital of the country meant it was always going to be testing to have Pukekura Park up to a standard a modern day player expects to showcase their skills.

It failed the test.

Fans found more interest in their phones than the rugby at times at Pukekura Park.

Andy Jackson/Getty Images

Fans found more interest in their phones than the rugby at times at Pukekura Park.

Slip-sliding away on a Sunday afternoon might suit those showcased up and down the country at secondary school level, but those playing in what was once a superior form of domestic sport deserve better.

It’s hard to know just how many of the injuries that came out of Sunday’s match could be attributed to the state of the playing surface, but it would have been an interesting point of discussion around the medic’s table post-game.

Not that the playing surface can be wholly attributable to the stop-start, start-stop nature of the so-called entertainment.

Referee Jono Bredin had a good workout with his arms at Pukekura Park.

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Referee Jono Bredin had a good workout with his arms at Pukekura Park.

The bloke disguised as a referee has taken the whistle-friendly nature of his previous guise as a netball official into the rugby arena and the sport is far worse off because of it.

It was no coincidence that the biggest cheers of the afternoon were reserved for the big budget half-time show when injured Taranaki players hoofed the ball high into the gray sky as young boys tried to catch it.

It surely had more to do with the fact they didn’t have to see or hear Jono Bredin blowing into his whistle for a graceful 12 minutes than anything else.

Taranaki's Jayson Potroz had a chance to win the game at the death.

Andy Jackson/Getty Images

Taranaki’s Jayson Potroz had a chance to win the game at the death.

Taranaki’s chances of maintaining an unbeaten run that stretched back to 2021 was also not helped by the fact coach Neil Barnes had to dig deep into the club rugby coffers to field his first team of 2022.

The union’s depth is being tested through a high injury toll and fringe All Blacks being away on training exercises and Barnes will need a mighty big bag of tricks to work through the next few weeks.

Still, Taranaki could have won on the last of Bredin’s penalties only for a Jayson Potroz kick to be hooked wide.

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