Enthusiasts long on shorts and short on breath

Referee Bruce Rowland is distracted as Tama Loper makes a run for the ball watched by (from left)...
Referee Bruce Rowland is distracted as Tama Loper makes a run for the ball watched by (from left) Josh Lewis, Graeme Ross, Ray Sinnamon (on the ground), Darryn Stewart, Peter Jones, Tony Green (obscured) and Barry Zwies. Photo by jane Dawber.
It was rugby as it used to be played in 1901 - and by the look of the players, some almost belonged in that era.

The first heritage rugby match was played yesterday at Takaro Park between Excelsior and Athletic, following old-style rules and with players wearing an old-fashioned strip.

While Athletic president Gerard McCarthy quipped that the average age of his players was 73, that was not quite the case.

His team's oldest player was 68-year-old Barry Zwies.

There was a festival-like atmosphere at the park, where a shortened field had been marked out, complete with rustic-looking goal posts.

The game began with Pokarekare Ana and God Save the Queen sung by the Liltalongs.

The leather ball was carried on to the field by Ian Burns (87), who was wearing his old Excelsior jersey.

"I earned it; I didn't just get it," he said.

Mr Burns started playing for the club about 1935.

He played in the hooker's position until he went into the army in 1939.

His old club jersey resided in a bottom drawer until he got it out yesterday morning.

"The wife said, give me that and I'll wash it . . . and it's still in one piece," he said.

Attending the game was a "matter of nostalgia", he said.

Referee Bruce Rowland was decked out in a waistcoat, bowler hat and cravat, with baler-twine around his trouser legs.

The game had the obligatory "streaker", in the form of artist Donna Demente dressed in a red corset, pantaloons and striped stockings, She joked that she had asked to be tackled by Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal - saying she would do it "in the nick" if he was available.

She was chased across the park by Senior Constable Bruce Dow, who was wearing an old-fashioned police uniform, and who later "arrested" Gary Byrne, who was playing his 298th game for Athletic, following a "brawl".

Donald Harborne and John Borrie, from St John, were also dressed in old attire and used an old-fashioned stretcher to cart Tim Milmine from the field.

Athletic eventually won the game 12-9.

The game was part of the town's Victorian heritage celebrations which continue today with a street parade, trolley derby and national penny-farthing and veteran cycle championships, and finish tomorrow with a Victorian fete.

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