Ancient game embraced
A carnival of culture and competition played out at Neale Park yesterday as Nelson's ki-o-rahi tournament showed a sport steeped in tradition can be presented in a style that has traction with youth.
In the year since its introduction into the Tasman Secondary Schools' calendar, the Maori ball sport has doubled in popularity. The all-action game play, overlaid by the atmosphere of a festival event involving 36 teams, made for an entertaining day.
The sport is an almost indescribable mix of handball, netball and rugby. However, the final of the senior boys' competition showed that handling and accuracy are central, while flair and running can break a game.
Nayland College prevailed over Nelson College, 15-12, in the senior boys' final while the Nelson College for Girls' Piki Mai team took out the mixed-grade competition 16-12 against a focused youth Nelson outfit.
In the junior boys' grade, Golden Bay High School also pipped Nelson College 36-35 in a typically tight final encounter. The junior mixed competition saw Motueka High School emerge as winners, defeating a well-drilled Tuia Te Matangi, Te Kura Kaupapa 23-17.
In the intermediate competition, Waimea Intermediate scored both places in the final, Waimea Red beating Waimea Black 23-8.
Ki-o-rahi sees the attacking team run and pass to evade outside defenders on a circular field, earning the right to tag the outside markers with the ball and accumulate a potential point pool. Any number of the seven markers can be hit, but to convert the total number of hits into points, a player in possession must cross the inner circle through defenders without having a rippa tag removed.
If the defending team tags a player in the inside circle, intercepts the ball or picks up a fumble they earn the right to score by throwing the ball from the edge of the inside circle, attempting to hit the central scoring drum shaped target. The defenders earn a point for each successful hit, and can regather the rebound and shoot again, until the attackers regain the ball.
Two teams of seven rotate attack and defence through four five-minute quarters, and the referee is more used as a scoring umpire.
In the senior boys' final, eventual champions Nayland College prevailed through consistent scoring while on defence. The ball handling and projectile precision of the basketball style skills of Laughlan Campion and his cohorts secured victory.
The Nelson College team developed most of their attack across land and, with players of the ilk of Kere Barrett, they often maximised their points pool. When Nelson started to look inside for to convert the points, a loose handle of the mini-football sized ki (ball) saw their hits unconverted.
Eliot Smith, Nayland's coach, said the game was impressively continuous in defence and attack.
"We are learning strategies as we go, but we were picking up some tips and it seemed to work. There are certain vulnerable points on the circular field, but you have to keep focused because it's non-stop."
If the sport was new and fresh, the tournament presentation matched it in every way. The game has minimal stoppages, while on the sidelines, the music and beats didn't stop as students from around the entire region enjoyed the relaxed competition.
Whakatu Marae's Jamein Bristowe said there is a unique sporting vibe being cultivated, yet it is born of an ethos.
"It was just really cool to see all the players using fair play, that's what we try and promote within Maori sports. The first thing is about having fun, also winning, but more about manaakitanga - supporting each other."
The pre-colonial sport is still played regularly in pockets of France and Italy, where the Maori Battalion trod in World War II.
At that time there were probably as many goose steps and spins, but it is arguable if the techniques of lifting or launching yourself from a kneeling team-mate's back to shoot were attempted. Motueka High School's junior team pushed the boundaries, but just the same, the sport of ki-o-rahi was breaking moulds.
Bristowe said that if the trend of growth continued it was only a matter of time before the full contact version was brought out for senior boys.
That would see a whole new element added to the mix.
"If it's next year or the year after, I don't know. But it is definitely the direction we want to go in," Bristowe said.
The Nelson Mail