Northland women's rugby took another huge step forward on Saturday as the region's under-18 team trounced Auckland East 46-25.
The team, which hadn't won any of its four previous Blues region under-18 girls' competition fixtures this year, was near-perfect as they dismantled the Auckland side from minute one at the Trigg Sports Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The day marked a special occasion for women's rugby in Northland as it was the under-18 team's one and only home game this season, and also played curtain-raiser to the first ever home game for Northland's Farah Palmer Cup team, which lost 40-7 to Otago.
The under-18 team did their best to connect with the community and bolster support before the game. All team members were accompanied by girls as young as four years old as they walked on to the pitch in an effort to increase interest for the next generation of female rugby players.
Check out our very own Bron Hames and her epic speech for the U18 Northland team on the weekend 🙌🏼 Northland Women's RugbyPosted by Kamo Hawks Women's Rugby on Saturday, 14 September 2019
From the moment referee Hugh Slobbe blew his whistle at kickoff, Northland showed experience beyond their years, playing with a very high level of skill and discipline.
It didn't take long for those skills to turn into points for the home team as first five Pohutukawa Kakara expertly scythed through the Auckland East defensive line to score the team's first try after just a few minutes.
While Auckland towered over the smaller Northland side, the girls in blue didn't shy away from making hard tackles. Openside flanker Wikitoria Tipene was immense on both attack and defence, throwing herself fearlessly at the opposition.
Using the composed distribution from halfback Jamie-Lee Roche, Northland's backline kept finding holes through Auckland's defence. While the visitors looked dangerous with ball in hand, Northland tackled their hearts out to go into the sheds, 27-5 up at halftime.
When Northland second five Harmony Covacich scored again from her second clean line break in the second half, the home side was up 46-10 and dominating. However, fatigue started to play its part and Auckland East scored three more tries to end the game, 46-25.
"I'm stoked as to get a win on our home ground," Northland under-18 captain Georgia Brierly said.
"We kept it humble out there, we told ourselves it was nil-all and anything can happen but it was feeling great to keep scoring and it was awesome to get that feeling that we can do this."
The team had only been together for about eight weeks and with players spread across the length of Northland, Brierly (from Wellsford) knew as well as anybody the commitment required to get the team to this standard.
"I travel two and a half hours to get to training so all the tiredness and everything has been paid off."
Northland's win was even more astounding considering the same Auckland East side convincingly beat North Harbour, a team who Northland had lost to last weekend.
Northland under-18 coach Josh Hyde was ecstatic after the game and said all the hard work had been building towards something special.
"It wasn't a perfect performance, there was still a lot of errors but it was probably the closest we've been to a perfect performance," he said.
"I've got the belief in them, I'll go tooth and nail for these girls but I didn't expect them to come out and play that much as a team, it was great."
Hyde credited first five Kakara on a great performance considering she was only 14 years old and brought in last week as an injury replacement.
"[Kakara] is just an absolute superstar, the only reason she wasn't in the squad initially was because of her age, so coming in and performing like that, she's definitely one we need to keep in the region."
Hyde acknowledged fitness was an issue for the team but felt this would improve as the players had more rugby to play in future seasons.
"That's just what comes with the lack of competition," he said.
"Next year [the players] will be playing for clubs and schools and it's just going to extend their season out even longer."
Hyde said much of the kudos for Saturday's win needed to go to Northland Rugby women's rugby manager Scott Collins for his work in the development of women's rugby in the region across different age groups.
The team has one competition game left this season on Saturday against an unconfirmed opponent in Tauranga. On the following weekend, Northland's under-18 team will play their last fixture against the Taranaki under-18 team as a curtain-raiser to the Farah Palmer Cup tie between Northland and Taranaki in Inglewood.
Northland 46 (L.Tubailagi 2, L. Murray-Wihongi 2, H. Covacich 2, P. Kakara, R. Barber tries, P Kakara 3 cons) Auckland East 25.