Shield delight after tragedy

Chris Eaton holds the Ranfurly Shield in Dunedin after yesterday's win.
Chris Eaton holds the Ranfurly Shield in Dunedin after yesterday's win.

It was a special Father's Day for Hawkes Bay rugby player and widower Chris Eaton.

Five months after his wife was killed in a car crash, Eaton took the field with his Hawkes Bay teammates to battle for the Ranfurly Shield.

In a historic win, Hawkes Bay beat Otago 20-19 to take the Log o' Wood for the first time since 1969.

At Easter, Eaton was in Perth playing for the Western Force on a short-term contract when he received devastating news.

His wife Hannah, 25, had been killed when the vehicle she was driving and a Ford Territory SUV collided head-on near Puriri, on SH26 between Paeroa and Thames.

Her death left Eaton, 29, a single father to 4-year-old Layla.

Eaton with wife Hannah and Layla.
Eaton with wife Hannah and Layla.

Before yesterday's game Eaton spoke of the support given to him by his Hawkes Bay teammates, known as the Magpies - or within the team, as the Birdgang.

Afterwards, he posted a celebratory tweet: "Cheers for the love magpies fans. #birdgang is coming home with the old log of wood."

Teammate Zac Guildford, who has faced his own personal troubles, also tweeted after the match. "We won the shield, so happy career highlight thanks to all the magpies supporters out there," he said.

Public celebrations will begin today to welcome home the victorious team.

The Magpies are to arrive at Hawkes Bay Airport at 12.45pm today.

Hawke's Bay Rugby Union commercial manager Jay Campbell said the players and management staff would make their way through the airport, where fans are expected to greet them, before a victory parade through Napier at 3.15pm.

"It's going to be a huge week - I'm just over the moon that we've won it, its going to be massive."

Mr Campbell said the shield would then be taken around the region, enabling all of Hawkes Bay to celebrate with the team.

The Hastings City Council was last night organising a parade along Heretaunga St in the city for 10.30am tomorrow.

But last night all the focus was on the team and its amazing victory. Interviewed shortly after the final whistle, Magpies head coach Craig Philpott said: "A pretty special day ... the highlight of my coaching career."

Although the Magpies face Counties-Manukau in their first defence at Napier's McLean Park on Saturday, Philpott said it was important the team had a couple of drinks last night before "getting back on the horse" today.

Philpott praised the "fantastic" support for the Magpies in Dunedin from Hawkes Bay students at Otago University and fans who made the trip south from Hawkes Bay, Auckland and Wellington.

And the highlight of Philpott's day?

"Watching [captain] Mike Coman being presented with the shield ... Mike personifies what being a Magpie is all about."

- Staff reporter and APN

- NZ Herald

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