A player involved in a festival match celebrating the centenary of one of New Zealand’s smallest rugby clubs has died this morning after an on-field incident.
The player collapsed during the match between Ruatoria City's 2022 squad and a Ruatoria Centennial XV.
Despite extensive efforts to save him the player was pronounced dead at the scene with the match abandoned and a karakia sung as his body was removed from the pitch.
A spectator said players remained around their mate's body, as they took turns to pay their respects.
The ground was to be blessed and union officials were to speak to the man's whānau before a decision was made to play the Lochore Cup final this afternoon.
Union officials confirmed the clash would go ahead as scheduled at 1.05pm, despite the death.
Before kickoff players from the Ngāti Porou East Coast and Mid Canterbury Heartland Championship teams stood in formation on the field, and held a minute's silence to mark the death.
The spectator described the moments after the player collapsed with two ambulances rushing onto the field, and players from both teams forming an honour guard around him while medics cared for him.
A Gisborne-based rescue helicopter then landed on the pitch and medics continued to treat the player but without success.
The match was the curtain-raiser to this afternoon's Ngāti Porou East Coast clash against Mid Canterbury for the Lochore Cup final.
On the Ngāti Porou East Coast rugby union Facebook page the curtain-raiser clash was described as a "state of origin Ngāti Style" with fathers up against sons, brothers against brothers and cousins against cousins.
Hundreds of people are attending Ruatoria City’s 100th celebration.