Waikato team give their all in 2017 Roller Mills

A Waikato player powers through the Counties Manukau defence during their game on Friday.

Ten provincial rugby teams played their collective hearts out at last week’s 2017 NRM National Roller Mills Rugby Tournament, most of it held at St Peter’s School, Cambridge.

Finals day on Sunday ended with Auckland East winning their game against Bay of Plenty (29-17), going on to take the title of NRM tournament champions for 2017.

Bay of Plenty came in second, with Auckland West placing third. Waikato placed sixth after winning four games and losing two. Their shot at a top placing disappeared after losing the final round robin game on Friday, contesting the semi-final against Counties Manukau.

For most of the second half it looked like they would take the win. “It was a good comeback but just wasn’t enough,” said Te Awamutu player Daniel Tickelpenny.

The home crowd rattled their Mooloo bells as they cheered on the Waikato players.

With 10 minutes to go and a draw of 12-all, the sound of Mooloo bells was deafening as the home crowd cheered on the intermediate-age players. But as the last few minutes drew near, the victorious cheers soon switched to the Counties side as the red and white players took the win with a single penalty kick at the end of the match. Final score 13-12 to Counties.

Cambridge player Lachlann McCarthy races the ball towards the try line.

“The second half, we absolutely came back hard but it just wasn’t enough unfortunately, well it was, and then it wasn’t!” said Waikato’s Assistant Coach Graham Wallace. “That last couple of minutes hurt us, but hey, it was a great game, great pressure, we’re really proud of the boys.”

“If it had ended in a draw I think we would have gone through on points differential,” said the team’s only Cambridge player, Lachlann McCarthy. “It was a hundred and ten percent from everyone.”

“Everyone was playing for each other,” added Tickelpenny.

The ten teams playing this year were King Country, Thames Valley, North Harbour, Taranaki, Waikato, Northland, Auckland West, Counties Manukau, Auckland East and Bay of Plenty.  A couple of early games were held at other venues before the 230 or so players moved into St Peter’s boarding houses on October 10 for six days of hard-playing rugby.

This year was the tournament’s 99th. The first was held in Auckland in 1925 when the Northern Roller Milling Company presented a shield for a competition between school teams from any rugby unions within the Auckland province. It remains a competition primarily for players aged 12 to 13.

Many rugby greats cut their teeth at Roller Mills. They include Colin Meads, Sonny Bill Williams, Keven Mealamu, Michael Jones, Keiran Read and Richard Kahui.

Colin Meads’ son Glynn Meads, who is involved in King Country rugby, was at St Peter’s during this year’s tournament.

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