Bay women score lovely' place in history

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

IT WAS Sunday, September 14, 1980, and American professional Donna Caponi had clinched the United Virginia Bank Classic by four strokes from countrywoman Nancy Lopez on the way to finding her perch in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

In Toronto, people were gathered at a park dedicating a stone monument to commemorate close to 15,000 Poles missing in Soviet camps, while San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark began an NFL streak of 105 consecutive game receptions.

About midday at the expansive Showgrounds Oval (now FMG Stadium) in Palmerston North, where two years later cantankerous spectators went on to give a youthful Wallaby winger David Campese on tour the raspberries, two teams of Hawke's Bay and Manawatu women representative rugby players were simply excited about running on to the field.

While it wasn't as dramatic an event as others around the world, little did Bay captain Leona Paraha and her Manawatu counterpart, Helen McCall, realise the significance of their curtainraiser to the men's NPC game between the provinces.

Like their male counterparts who won 43-23, Manawatu won 11-0 in what was officially the first women's interprovincial game in the country.

Male rugby faithful in both regions didn't warm to the idea at all, any more than they had embraced the concept of cheerleading girls blocking their vision on the park during men's matches.

The Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union and its Manawatu counterparts had little, if any, input in organising the encounter although in the match programme MRU president Owen Gleeson acknowledged:

"We have two special curtainraisers today, the first being the Manawatu Ladies versus Hawke's Bay Ladies. I believe a first in New Zealand for ladies representative rugby."

It was actually the initiative of two radio stations - 2ZA in Palmerston North and Bay City Radio in Napier.

The protagonists were 2ZA announcer Kev Loughlin in Palmy and Napier announcers Barry "Bazza" Corbett and a youthful John McBeth in Napier.

Today, about, 3.20pm, McBeth, of Wellington, who arrived in the Bay from Wellington with wife Ray, will present the Attenborough and McBeth Cup to either Hawke's Bay Tuis skipper/prop Natalie Cotton or her Manawatu counterpart at the Napier Old Boys' Marist clubrooms after the dust settles from the 1pm kick-off at the adjacent Tremains field at Park Island, Napier, following their women's National Provincial Championship (NPC) clash.

McBeth, who co-coached with Taradale Rugby Club coach Kevin Smith, fondly recalled the commotion caused in organising the first women's game.

"People were saying it was just a bit of fun and it will never last.

"Some of them were saying why were we trying to get women to play and said things like they were going to get hurt," says the 63-year-old freelance sports reporter and commentator who was the first full-time sports announcer for Classic Hits in Napier, where he worked for two years.

McBeth and Corbett, the breakfast announcer who went on to assume the mantle of team manager, were in for a surprise after "calling out on the radio" for Bay women who wanted to play.

"It was a late Wednesday night so we expected a dozen of them to turn up but we ended up with more than 40 of them from as far as Wairoa, Dannevirke and Waipukurau, so we were left gobsmacked," says McBeth, adding they held a trial match the next weekend to select the "Bazza's Beauties" who travelled to Palmy in a bus for the curtainraiser to the blokes.

"We were so excited about playing we didn't even watch the men's game after that," he says, recalling captain Leona Paraha and teammate Liz were sisters of Magpies captain Junior Pareha who had scored three tries that day for the men.

Coach Stuart Anderson and assistant Rangi Attenborough were at the helm of the Manawatu team dubbed "Loughlin's Lovelies". The Bay women played two warm-up games before the curtainraiser, beating "Muzza's Madams" 46-4 and Wairoa 44-4.

"We soon found out the women could tackle and were developing lots. They were fit and there was a willingness to get stuck in," says McBeth of women aged 18 to 30 and from myriad backgrounds.

Jeanette Taylor's brother, Ken, was a one-test All Black, says the man who was born in the Richie McCaw land of Kurow but grew up in Oamaru.

Engravings on the trophy show the Tuis won in 2010 and 2011.

Hawke's Bay ``Bazza's Beauties'' : Pauline Nicholson, Jo Shears, Viviene Baker, Shirley Morris, Jeanette Taylor, Paulette Wallace, Marie Caney, Jennis Lawrence, Fan Teaho, Shiralee Hiha, Pauline Message, Puti Petuha, Susan Mills, Vicky Hunt, Aroha Tihema, Orine Karaitiana, Peti Tihema, Liz Paraha, Leona Paraha (captain), Marg  Mitchell.

Co-coaches: Kevin Smith and John McBeth.

Manager: Barry Corbett.

Masseur: Graham Dunlop. 

Referee: Dave Cummins.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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