Papa Ata Piakura was a big supporter of young sports players – so perhaps he would have quietly smiled to see how age-group rugby players were given the chance to shine on Saturday.
Ngatokorua Ata Piakura passed away late that morning, after the junior games had already got underway.
Out of respect for him, and after discussion with local MP Tama Tuavera, the women’s and men’s senior games were cancelled – allowing the youngsters to take the spotlight.
The whole island had come to Ngatangiia for this weekend’s games – so they were playing on the field where Piakura and his sons made their name.
Papa Ata coached rugby there. “He was a fine all round sportsman during this younger days and also a very staunch Sea Eagles supporter,” said Cook Islands Rugby Union development manager Ben Koteka.
He had turned 79 just last week, and even in his senior years, his was a familiar face, always sitting with his family at the north end of the field.
The games were all delayed, to the under-16 clash between Town and Country didn’t get underway until after 1pm.
In a reverse of last weeks’ result the Country team came out firing and they were able to comprehensively win this match by 32-12.
Country’s star players were utility back Troy Matutu, who scored two tries, and winger Henry Mataio who also ran in a 5-pointer. Iaveta Remuera, Tione Nand and the team’s nippy little No 10 Charles Tetevano all crossed the line, too.
Town’s two tries were scored by Kieran Tutai and Tere Akava, fed good ball by their team’s star performers, halves Nooti Peraua and Maka Maui.
When the under-19s ran onto the field, they didn’t know that theirs would be the last game of the day, before the senior women’s and men’s were called off.
This was a tough and exciting encounter with the Town team winning 29-19.
The first half was a see-saw battle with neither team able to dominate – the halftime score was 19-all.
However late in the second half, the younger and hungrier Town team were able to finish strongly, scoring twice more to take the tally to 29-19.
Albert Edwards, Nabou Kiriau, Maru Tearaitoa and James Tarau all ran in tries for Town, ably supported by Jireh Vunibaka’s boot – he kicked three conversions and a penalty. Winger Albert Edwards and midfielder Nabou Kiriau both put in top performances.
Country’s tries were scored by First 5/8 Thomas Toa, No 8 Parau Ellis (thee team’s top performers on the day) and Armani Ama.
There was never any question that the 2.30pm senior game between Avatiu Eels and Takitumu, Papa Ata’s local team, would be called off after news of his passing came through. The decision was eventuallyly made to cancel the Women’s Town v Country and the men’s Arorangi Cowboys v Tupapa Panthers games as well.
Papa Ata’s son Richard is now co-coach of the Takitumu team. Brothers Richard and Ernest both represented Cook Islands at rugby union and league, and their sister June represented Cook Islands too, in cricket.
Koteka said Cook Islands Rugby Union executive and their rugby families wished to convey their deepest condolences to Mama Rupe and the Piakura family.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with you all at this time,” he said. “Rest in peace and God bless always Papa Ata.”