Richard Moore: Cooks crowd deliver real hits

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George Hosking, president of the Bulls. Photo/supplied
George Hosking, president of the Bulls. Photo/supplied

Over the weekend I went to the greatest game of rugby I have seen.

It wasn't the skills, or the score, that made it so outstanding it was the infectious enthusiasm and participation of the crowd that raised it to Olympian heights. The match wasn't at Eden Park, the Stade de France or Twickenham. The venue was Teimurimotia Park in the south west of Rarotonga.

With a picturesque background of coconut palms and rising volcanic mountains, Teimurimotia Park is the perfect place for a game of rugger.

The entry fee is a triangular Cook Island two-dollar piece, although dozens of fans stay outside looking through the wire perimeter fence. There are a few areas of bench seats but, most spectators sit on grass banks or chairs they've brought from home.

The atmosphere is lively for a game in which the home side - the Titikaveka Bulls - and the visiting Takuvaine Reds both need a win. People chat and laughter rises above conversations.

Then it's time for the main event and a swipe of Aerogard to fend off the beastly local mossies.

Rugby in the Cooks is played for the love of it. The skill levels are good " some players very good " and the pace some possess, particularly Fijian guys, is stopwatch fast. But when a player is waiting to catch a high ball you are never quite sure if they will fumble it, or grab it and dart off down the field.

The kicking is just as unknown with a boot either sending the ball 45m, or spiralling somewhere below the clouds before crossing the line with a gain of only 10m.

The latter will trigger a burst of shouting from a man in a light green T-shirt who yells at the Bulls players to chase hard, run faster and tackle. He yells to the spectators: "We don't train, we are disorganised, but we are doing well."

After an error he throws his arms about and plays to the crowd. They love him.

The guy in the T-shirt is George Hosking, president of the Bulls, and his performance alone is worth the price of admission. His comic timing is superb and I can't help but find myself laughing loudly as I try to take pictures.

Not wanting to distract him I wait for a break in play before having a quick word, and that's when he turns quietly - and briefly - serious and talks about his club and his hopes. Then it's back to the crowd and "We don't train, we are disorganised, but we are doing well."

More cheers and laughter.

In the game the Reds look more polished and skilled, but the Bulls players aren't out of it. They may not train, but they are holding their own against the more fancied side. The whistle blows for half-time it's 12-all.

By the time the restart comes the misty clouds have moved down from the peaks and a light rain is falling.

On the field the game is slipping away from the Bulls as ill discipline sees a stream of blue-uniformed guys trudging off the field for a 10-minute sin-bin break. At one point they are down three players to 12 men.

On the sideline George continues his one-man show: "We don't train, we are disorganised, but we are doing well."

They'd do better with a full side on the park, I think. It's heroic defence - and slippery ball luck - but you know it is only a matter of time before the relentless Reds crack them. And they do. 19-12.

The crowd tries to lift their boys. One woman yells after a hard collision "Ref... look... he broke the ball."

As I photograph her and her friend she calls to me "You put me in the paper. Front page!"

Everyone laughs. I call back "You can be a Page 3 girl." The crowd hoots.

The rain is falling harder now. Umbrellas pop up around the ground. My girls disappear under theirs, but the comments keep coming.

A guy behind me hears them getting stuck into the ref and he yells back "Call the Police!" High-pitched laughter echoes around. It seems like I'm in a Bro' Town episode.

The funniest moment comes in a verbal duel between one of my gals and a woman over the other side of the field. Due to the rain you could barely see where it is coming from but the shout criticises a Bulls player - probably for a desperate tackle.

My girls booms out: "You shut up!"

A voice responds: "You shut up."

"No you shut up."

"No you shut up."

If anyone has seen the movie Brother Bear and knows the scene between the mountain goat and his echo that is exactly what it's like.

I've gone from real world to the surreal.

Then, right on the final whistle the Reds go in again. 24-12 is the final score.

But the real victor is the crowd which has had a fabulous afternoon.

I have had a ball and will catch more rugby, Raro-style, next weekend.

- richard@richardmoore.com

Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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