Kiwi boys use rugby to recover from cyclone

rugby23 August 2023 03:17| © AFP
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© Gallo Images

On February 12, while the world's rugby eyes were on the Six Nations in Europe, Cyclone Gabrielle smashed her way on to the shores of New Zealand.

In Hawke's Bay, the devastation was savage with rivers bursting their banks and flash floods washing away bridges, roads and homes.

The rising waters and power outages meant over 9 000 people were evacuated. Eight people were found dead.

Rugby-mad best friends, Ollie Mitchell and Payton Thomsen, were among those deeply affected by the cyclone. Their homes were both severely damaged as was their school Puketapu.

Their parents got their heads together to make sure that Ollie and Payton, both 11 at the time, were not separated and moved them to Hereworth School in Havelock North.

The boys used to play for rival clubs but now play for the same team, Hereworth Rugby Club.

That tight bond, along with the togetherness forged with their other teammates on the rugby field has been crucial in helping Ollie and Payton recover from the trauma of Cyclone Gabrielle.

It goes without saying that the two of them will be glued to the television to watch the progress of the All Blacks, and especially local Hawke's Bay hero Brodie Retallick, as they go in search of a fourth World Cup title.

New Zealand won the inaugural event in 1987 but then had to wait 24 years before they scraped their second crown with an 8-7 win over France in Auckland.

The All Blacks retained their title four years later but crashed out to England in the semifinals four years ago.

This time around they face a tough start when they face hosts France in Paris in the opening match on September 8 before going on to play Namibia, Italy and Uruguay.

New Zealand have never failed to reach the semifinals in the previous nine editions but a likely last eight meeting with either defending champions South Africa or Six Nations Grand Slam winners Ireland may put that record in jeopardy.

++ Ahead of the Rugby World Cup in France, Agence France-Presse asked 20 aspiring photographers from each country qualified for the competition to show one aspect of the rugby union culture in their homeland, with the help of Canon cameras who are sponsoring the tournament. From Namibia to Fiji via Georgia and Scotland this photo essay gives us a glimpse of the core values of rugby on five continents.