- By Adam Julian
There was already plenty at stake for the Waikato Under 19s ahead of their Jock Hobbs National Memorial Tournament Chiefs Regional seeding match against Bay of Plenty on Saturday.
A defeat for the Junior Mooloos would have consigned Waikato to the bottom eight Championship section of the Taupo tourney, beginning on Sunday.
For captain and lock Tom Martin the determination to succeed was even greater following a bereavement earlier in the week. A close school friend died at the tender age of 18.
“It’s been a pretty trying time,” Martin mourned.
“My friend was well known by a lot of the boys. Before the match I told them whatever pain we are in, it’s nothing compared to his family. When times get tough we’ve got to pull together and help each other out. We’ve got things good compared to others.”
With two minutes remaining, Bay of Plenty led 17-11. Waikato built some phases in midfield and worked slowly inside Steamers territory, earning a penalty.
“I was going to call a scrum then I thought stuff it, it’s about time we had a good drive,” Martin recalls
“We managed to win the ball and put our heads down and pumped as hard as we could. Our hooker Nicolas Jeffcoat got over in the corner and we had a sniff.”
The outcome of the match would be decided by first-five Quinn Collard.
“They must have had 70 percent of the ball in the first-half, but our defence held them to 10 points, which I think was the winning of the game. We turned with the wind and used it well, especially Quinn who got the curve on his conversion at the end,” Martin acclaimed.
Waikato will meet Blues regional winners Auckland in their first Premiership match of the Graham Mourie Cup.
In 2018, Waikato beat Otago 30-5 in the second-tier Michael Jones Trophy final.
Waikato’s best performance at Owen Delany Park was in 2016 when they won the Premiership, defeating Auckland 25-22 in the final. Matthew Lansdown kicked a record six penalties while new All Black flanker Luke Jacobson won the DJ Graham Memorial Medal as the player of the tournament. Wellington Lions skipper Du’Plessis Kirifi was an absolute standout as well. How will Waikato compare in 2019?
“We’ve got some good carriers in the forwards and pace out wide. We’ve worked really hard at improving our defence and our culture is strong. We’ll take things one game at a time, but were building nicely,” Martin responded.
Waikato was beaten in their first seeding fixture by Taranaki 20-19 before recovering to overpower Counties 34-14. Additionally Waikato accounted for the Waikato Under 23s, Manawatu and North Harbour in warm-up meetings.
Waikato are coached by Mark McConnell who guided Hamilton Old Boys’ to consecutive Breweries Shield titles in 2017 and 2018, Sean Hohneck, a former Chiefs lock and coach at St Peter’s Cambridge, and Daniel Teka, a former Waikato representative.
Earlier this season Martin was mentored by the Marist St Pat’s club in Wellington. The New Zealand Secondary Schools selection is studying industrial design at Victoria University.
“I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into at MSP,” Martin admits.
“It was challenging meeting my requirements with the Waikato Rugby Academy while also studying and doing my best for MSP. I think I managed to do alright at each thing.”
Martin made 14 appearances for the MSP premiers, despite being hampered by a knee injury sustained against Paremata-Plimmerton.
Another disappointment was MSP being regulated to the Hardham Cup for the first time since 1974.
“It’s real competitive in Wellington, which is great. Ten teams can beat each other on their day. It was a big let down to miss the Jubilee Cup, but we were determined to finish strongly.”
MSP won 11 of their last 12 games, beating eventual Jubilee champions Norths 48-31 and flipping two previous setbacks against Old Boys University in the Hardam Cup decider.
“It felt like we were building towards that moment and it felt really good to end the season with a trophy. OBU have been a strong club,” Martin enthused.
Martin was the head prefect at Hamilton Boys’ High School and conducts himself with an ease of confidence and sincerity which is infectious. When asked to explain his frequent leadership appointments he concluded.
“I just try and be myself and will continue to be throughout my career. I value hard work, constructive feedback and friendship.”
This past Saturday night, Martin won the Mick Horan Memorial Trophy, for showing tenacity and commitment on and off the field.