Thursday, 26 November 2020


Ron Morgan picks his Mercury Bay dream rugby team

Whitianga local, Ron Morgan, knows a thing or two about rugby. He has been involved in the game at all levels in one form or another pretty much all his life. He began his playing days in Rotorua where he captained the Bay of Plenty junior representative team.

He also played several seasons for the successful Waikato University Senior A side and then went on to captain the New Zealand National Service Team (New Zealand Army) as a loose forward. He finished his playing days as captain of the Mercury Bay senior team. At the time he was still teaching at Mercury Bay Area School, a job he held for 37 years. 

Early in his teaching career, Ron was also heavily involved in school rugby in Rotorua where he coached the likes of Wayne “Buck” Shelford, Hika Reid and Steve McDowell, who all went on to have long and distinguished All Black careers.

Ron’s contribution to the game continued long after hanging up the boots. He was chairman of the centennial committee when the Mercury Bay Rugby Club celebrated 100 years back in 1988. He also convened a local ten-a-side tournament that ran for many years plus a top club quadrangular rugby weekend.  

Another lasting major contribution to the local rugby scene was helping to set up a rugby player exchange scheme between MBAS and a private school on Vancouver Island, Canada. Ron also played a key role in developing a sports leadership programme with a Canadian College in Ontario, Canada.      

If there was one standout and memorable personal achievement in Ron’s association with the game of rugby, however, it has to be his involvement with the Roller Mills intermediate schools tournament. Over the years, the North Island tournament - which catered for teams from the King Country north - showcased many future champion players, including Chiefs coach, Warren Gatland.  “The one week long Roller Mills tournament was held in Whitianga three times over the years it ran, with all the games being played at our home venue of Lyon Park,” says Ron. “They were all hugely successful mainly due to the effort put in by the local community who, among other things, billeted players and really got behind making it a special occasion for the many visitors who attended. We even involved the Army who provided mobile showers, a medical tent and cooking facilities. The local team which won the trophy once in my tenure was made up of players picked from the Thames Valley area.

“We were initially told by the rugby hierarchy that Whitianga was far too isolated to hold such a prestigious tournament, but it turned out to be the total opposite. In fact, I believe that many people now residing in Mercury Bay permanently are here because their first taste of paradise was due to their children coming to town and participating in a number of different sporting and recreational activities like the Roller Mills tournament.”

So, with such a long and distinguished association with rugby, Ron has stuck his neck firmly on the chopping block and selected his very own local dream team. It’s picked from players who played at first class representative level from the 1970s onwards and who had (or still have) some connection to Mercury Bay, either through their association with the Mercury Bay Rugby Club, or as current or past residents of the area.

Not included are several current players who Ron says would make an equally talented team.  

Sadly some of the players selected have passed on, but their contributions to rugby in Mercury Bay and the game overall have not been overlooked by Ron. 

Ron’s dream team will no doubt provide for healthy discussion around the area from past and present players, coaches and loyal supporters.

Front Row - Ian McDonald (East Coast, Thames Valley, Taranaki), Mike Smith (North Auckland, Thames Valley, New Zealand Teachers), Maurice Tito (Canterbury) and Jim McCabe (Auckland).

Locks - Kevin Barry (All Blacks, Thames Valley, Auckland), Barry Ashworth (All Blacks, Auckland), Graeme Lomas (Marlborough, Taranaki, New Zealand Teachers) and Paul Herbert (Thames Valley).

Loose Forwards - John (Honk) Turney (Waikato), Tom Henry (Waikato), Kevin Garland (Thames Valley), Phil (Pratty) Pratt (Hawkes Bay), Sean Muir (Thames Valley) and Hayden Cullen (Thames Valley).

Halfbacks - Peter Grant (Auckland) and Les Rolls (Manawatu).

Five Eights - John Boe (All Blacks, Waikato) and Warren McLean (NZ Maori All Black, Counties).

Midfield - Chris Costello (New Zealand Juniors, Thames Valley), Neville Kydd (Thames Valley), Geoff Abrahamson (Thames Valley), Mike Proctor (Thames Valley, Auckland) and Geoff Wolfe (Thames Valley).

Wings - Wayne Warlow (NZ Maori All Blacks, Waikato), Colin Harris (Bay of Plenty) and Mark Rowbottom (Thames Valley).

Fullbacks - Daryl Halligan (Waikato, NZ Rugby League) and Homan Tapsell (Bay of Plenty).

Impact players - Eric Gaskell, Mike Skeen, Huia Martin, Duncan Oliver, Brad Davies, Nicky Hibbert, Steve Reyneders, Bill Fleming and Danny Keane.

Managers - Neil Gray (All Blacks) and Ross (Puggy) Southcombe (Waikato, Chiefs).

Coaches - Clinton Hemopo (New Zealand Navy), John Neighbours (MBAS) and Tony Richards (Thames Valley).

Referees/Linesmen - Phillip Berge, Bill Skinner and Kerry Beech.

Commentary Team - Wayne Stevens, Merv George, Maurice Muir, Don Bates and Craig Fussy.

Pictured: Well-known Whitianga local, Ron Morgan, has stuck his neck on the chopping block and selected his dream rugby team made up of from players who played at first class representative level from the 1970s onwards and who had (or still have) some connection to Mercury Bay.


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