Wed, Apr 27, 2022 10:40 AM

Taking rugby to the Sounds


Matt Brown

A rugby-mad Blenheim man who has set up one of the most isolated rugby pitches in the country.

The rugby field, in Wairangi Bay in the Outer Sounds, is as flat as you’ll get in the Sounds, says Rob Thornley.

And its debut game, a Golden Oldies match celebrating Rob’s 50th birthday, saw a massive influx to the isolated community for “a hell of a lot of fun”.

The paddock came about after Rob’s “crazy” idea to come out of retirement and play club rugby for Picton-based Waitohi; until his brother-in-law Nick Smith talked him into a better idea.

“It was Nick’s idea – he said, don’t be stupid. Do a one-off Golden Oldies game,” says Rob.

“Instead of a whole year [of rugby] as a 50-year-old, just have one game.”

The field is set up at Rob’s family bach in Croisilles Harbour and was a family effort through and through.

Home-milled timber for the uprights, the kids painted the crossbar in club colours and the field was mowed with the ride on.

“All my nephews played; they range in age from 7 to 13. They were split across the two teams,” Rob says.

Rob says in the end, they had massive numbers including several people who had never played a game of rugby before.

“My 66-year-old father had a go – he propped scrum.

“It was just an awesome day.”

About 30 people took part in the special rugby match in the Outer Sounds. Photo: Supplied.

Rob says he’s been going to the bach since he was 14. It used to take seven hours to drive there from Christchurch.

Now living in Blenheim, the travel isn’t so bad but it’s still an hour and a half from the closest regulation rugby field in Havelock.

“Over a couple of beers, we came up with a plan and it evolved from there.”

They played Golden Oldie rules, so no senior tackles, but Rob says some of the younger guys went hard.

“The paddock wasn’t exactly flat. We played four quarters, so each side played uphill twice.

The game was followed by a tipple, a speech and a feed.

“About 10.30 everyone hobbled off to bed with various aches and pains,” Rob laughs.

“It was a hell of a lot of fun. It far exceeded expectations.

“There were utes with couches on the back, dogs on the field and everybody was smiling.”

He says he wouldn’t be surprised if another game happened again next year.

“It would be an awesome tradition.

“I would certainly play, but I won’t host it again. It was a lot of pressure on my wife and me.

“Next year, if it happens, it will be bring a plate.”

He says the game showed that when you modify the rules, you get the participation.

“Club rugby is really struggling. It’s just amazing when the pressure is taken off, when it’s just about having fun, how easy it was to get two teams together.

“Maybe there’s a lesson there for the rugby union.

“It’s got to be fun.”

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