A team of rugby players that were the toast of Horowhenua after beating an international touring side 50 years ago have a reunion planned for tomorrow.
The 1969 Horowhenua team beat a strong Tongan team 22-10 in front of a huge crowd at Levin Domain on August 20, 1969 - a Wednesday - and it remains one of the more memorable results for the Horowhenua Rugby Union.
They weren't expected to win, and some Horowhenua players remember being asked during the week by townsfolk "who's going to bat first". But they were quietly confident, with some players more than happy to take wagers on the result.
The Rugby Almanac of that year stated: "Without doubt Horowhenua was seen at its best in the handsome victory over Tonga, when a vigorous and well-knit pack secured a preponderance of ball and decisive tackling nullified the cleverness of the Tongan backs."
The crowd that afternoon was estimated at 4000. While there won't be nearly that many in attendance for tomorrow's match with Wanganui at Levin Domain, a healthy following is expected.
The Horowhenua game was part of a 11-match New Zealand-wide tour for Tonga, their first of New Zealand, that started in Nelson Bays in early August and finished in Bay of Plenty a month later.
They had been pressing for a tour for more than a decade.
The Tongan team had arrived in Levin earlier in the week and attended a host of social engagements, including one in the Levin Memorial Hall attended by 500 people where they sang to the crowd, and they visited numerous rest homes and schools.
The popular tourists were said to have been warmly received and were "superbly" behaved wherever they went with "flashing smiles", and were musically talented and not averse to a hearty song.
The match itself was said to be a thriller. In its match report, Horowhenua Chronicle said "...Tonga had to create openings for themselves from positions which were continually being battered by a relentless tackling force".
"Two who were to give memorable displays in this regard were T. Hooper and M Hori Te Pa, with the new recruit buzzing around the field and putting real sting into his efforts."
"And it was woe betide a luckless Tongan player when the arms of J Saulbrey, M Tattle or V Whiley came around him...T Hunt was another...he drove ahead with real strength, once taking two opponents ahead of him for over 18 yards."
"Hooper and James stirred the crowd and Hori Te Pa the imagination, the latter punching a hole before being buried out by the Tongan goal-line."
"The ball passed through the hands of Weale and back to Hori Te Pa and then Whiley, who crashed in for the try."
Horowhenua was awarded 10 penalties to Tonga's six.
"W Robinson had his kicking boots on. He has every reason to be proud of his personal tally of 13 points, points which coming into the vital stages of game seemed to hammer Tonga's hopes further and further into the ground."
"Palmer had a go at a drop goal, the forwards drove through and from a loose melee Tonga were penalised. Robinson carefully lined it up and it sailed between the posts."
"...a tight-head to Horowhenua, they wheeled the scrum, spun away and with sheer force both Tattle and Halidone drove over the goal-line, the try going to Tattle."
With 14 minutes to go Horowhenua was just six points in front of the ever-dangerous Tongans. Saulbrey toed the ball ahead "in a great run that took play upfield some 48 yards".
Prop forward Saulbrey scored a late try in the match, which was disallowed when referee J Reynish said he had "adjusted the ball".
"With time nearly up, Hori Te Pa, Whiley, Tattle and Saulbrey handled the ball to Seymour to gain final transfer and touch down well out."
"The crowd nearly surged the field as Robinson lined up, but the ball just went outside and as if for a signal loud cheers went up as homage for a great game and equally heart-stirring exhibition by Horowhenua."
The after-match function was held at the Oxford Hotel in Levin and organised by the
NZRFU and the Horowhenua players with one beverage voucher each.
Meanwhile, enough players from 1969 to form a team are expected at the reunion this weekend, including coach Lindsay Wheeler.
While not all the Horowhenua squad of 1969 were still alive, their deeds would no doubt be remembered through stories at the weekend.
At the time, Tonga was just the second fully international team to play Horowhenua in Levin, after a loss to Australia 28-6 in 1962, although there had been numerous fixtures against touring provincial sides at the venue.
There were numerous occasions where players formed part of a Manawatū-Horowhenua team that played touring teams like South Africa and British Isles, but those games were held in Palmerston North.
The only occasions that Horowhenua had beaten a truly international representative side in Levin in their 127-year history was Tonga in 1969, and Western Samoa (17-6) in 1976.
SCOREBOARD: Horowhenua: 22 (V. L. Whiley, M. J. Tattle, B. M. Seymour tries; W. F Robinson 3 penalty goals, 2 conversions) v Tonga: 10
The starting teams were: Horowhenua: 1 J Saulbrey. 2 A Hunt. 3 V Whiley (c). 4 K Halidone. 5 M Tattle. 6 M Hori Te Pa. 7 J Weale. 8 M Gardiner. 9 R Dennison. 10 A Palmer. 11 A Hooper. 12 C James. 13 W Robinson. 14 B Seymour. 15 D Radovanovich. 16 J Sisson. 17 K Kerehoma. 18 D Wills. 19 J Flux.
Tonga: 1 F Moala. 2 I Lupina. 3 S Mafi. 4 S Selupe. 5 F Mailangi. 6 K Inoke. 7 S Fotu (c). 8 S Selupe. 9 V Fifita. 10 O Eke. 11 H Veatupu. 12 T Kavapalu. 13 M Alatini. 14 K Hafoka. 15 S Sika. 16 U Tai. 17 K Longi. 18 M Filimoehala. 19 V Pahulu.