Eketahuna or Bust

Here is the story of how I ended up spending more than 24 hrs travelling to and from a pre-season game between the Hurricanes and Crusaders in what was little more than a field.

Professional rugby in a field?

OK this year they weren’t in a field and were living the highlife by playing at a small club in a county town with a population of 440 people. The origins of this game go back to 2010 when Nick Rodgers dreamt of having a rugby game over the road from his brewery. That his brewery was in a small country town miles from where professional rugby was always played didn’t matter. They turned the field into a decent rugby pitch and the rest as they say is history and folklore. After four years up in Mangatainoka (lucky I’m rotting not speaking this) they held last year’s game in Masterton. This year they are hosted by Ekatahuna rugby club who celebrated their 125th anniversary last year.

This is a game that I have read about over the last few years and is a great event that takes rugby back to the people. It’s also the kind of madcap thing I love to be a part of and this year I got the chance and grabbed it with both hands.

Cool event, why the epic journey?

Whilst I am now living in the right country, I am also living the other end of the North Island up in Auckland. Also as I’m currently unemployed this was going to be travelling economy style, no planes or limos on this one.

Quit the sob story and get on with the trip

It all started with the small matter of a ten minute train ride to the centre of town and a hunt for dinner before the all night coach trip. Anyone who has followed a rugby player on twitter will know there is only one place to eat when heading on a rugby tour. It has to be Nandoes.

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Then it all really started, the sleeper coach down to Wellington and the first pro-tip. Be the first getting on a sleeper as it lets you choose the single top bunk and not the sharing double bottom bunk. Oh and if you get travel sick double up on the bottom bunk. The top bunk sways around and feels like you’re on a boat. It wasn’t the princess coach that my daughter thought I was catching by any means. But the biggest issue was that this non-stop service stopped after half an hour and again an hour later. 5am we were woken up for people to get off at Palmerston North a stop that wasn’t on the list. Finally we arrived in Wellington 45 minutes late.

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A day stop over in Wellington was good as I caught up with a couple of old friends before the next convoluted step of the journey. We bought our tickets for the game fully expecting there to be supporters coaches going up from Wellington. Only to be told there wasn’t the demand and that we had to get to Masterton. OK we had a plan and so it was an early start to catch the hour and a half train ride up there looking resplendent in our Hawaiian shirts.

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The train ride was very civilised with tables and being nearly empty, shame there wasn’t a drinks service. Once in Masterton we found our motel and checked in. There are only two trains a day and we weren’t going to get back in time from the game to get the “last” one. We found the bus that would take us the last 40 minutes or so to the game. I can tell you we were beeped off to see coach after coach zoom by coming up from Wellington. Thank you Hurricanes, please chat to your local rugby clubs in future to know who might have spare spaces on their coaches for the odd traveller.

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Did you get to the Game?

Finally we got to the “don’t blink you’ll miss it” Eketahuna The weather wassunny and hot which was good as we were parked in a field and rain would have made it interesting. The folks of Eketahuna and Tui had a good setup with several food tents manned by the local school and clubs. We were surprised that there wasn’t a Tui or Hurricanes merchandise tent so this really was about putting money into the community rather making cash.

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The pitch though left something to be desired, clearly they had recently put in a new drainage system and there were two ditches running across the pitch. Luckily no one was seriously injured (from memory anyway). There was a warm up game between two amateur invitational sides which gave plenty of time for watering the larynx.

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They really were putting on a good show with the cup flown in by helicopter. In the actual game the Hurricanes took a large first half lead, helped by Crusaders poor defence, kicking and line outs. It was clear that this was preseason. The second half saw the Crusaders improve and staged a fight back including the introduction of Dan Carter. To many shouts of “give it to Dan”, they did and he duly gave it to someone else, ah well no waltzing through all the other players then. Hurricanes did enough to win lots to not quite so lots. For a proper write-up of the game click here.

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The crowd never managed to get a Mexican wave going but were doused in water from a crop sprayer plane. Being yellow it wasn’t Dusty, but the next best thing with some cool low flying. He was chased off by an American world war two fighter plane who also distracted the crowd from the rugby in the second half. After the game all the fans flooded the pitch where the players hung around having a chat and signing stuff. All in all a very enjoyable day and a good show put on. Do remember though to check when the bars close as we had over half an hour after the game before our coach left

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So easy trip home?

It took even longer than getting there! The bus back to Masterton was fine but obviously meant we had to stay there as the last train had already left. Being a small town there really wasn’t anything going on so pub dinner and bed. Another pro-tip is to find out if your room mate on tour snores. Yup it was a second bad night of sleep in the three days.

The problem with only two trains a day is that one is going to be early and the other late. Masterton really isn’t the kind of place to spend all day so the 8 am train it was. A very pleasant day in Wellington catching up with folks and then the final and worst part of the trip.

So to get home was another overnight coach trip but this time it wasn’t a sleeper but a normal coach. Luckily it was only half full so at least everybody got two seats to themselves. Unluckily it was a knackered coach, every time it went up a slope the engine would cut in and out. So we crawled and shuddered up every molehill and anything larger. Anyone who has been to New Zealand will know that it’s not a flat place and so very little sleep again and we arrived 2 hrs late. It took two days to recover so whilst I’d encourage folks to go see the game, perhaps try another form of transport and splash out on your own room.

I’ll be writing predictions and reviews of all the Super Rugby rounds so please join up with my SuperBru prediction league.

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