Known by her middle name, Manukura's captain took centre stage for her rugby First XV last week when they completed an unbeaten season by beating St Mary’s College, Wellington, in the Hurricanes region final.
Manukura defeated St Mary’s 19-12 in a gripping tussle in Palmerston North and Elinor-Plum King was in the thick of the action. The openside flanker was a turnover terrier, leading lineout jumper and a shining example of the fruits of hard work.
Elinor is her first name and Plum her middle name, hence Elinor-Plum on teamsheets. “Growing up, and still today, people always call me Plum, so that has stuck,” she told College Sport Media last week after the Hurricanes final.
Elinor-Plum is one of two players in the current Manukura team who are in this year’s Manawatu Cyclones Women’s NPC rugby squad, alongside Holly-Rae Mete-Renata.
The pair have played several matches each for the Cyclones throughout this year’s NPC, which was put on hold for a month from mid-August due to lockdowns but reaches its zenith this coming weekend with the finals which Manawatu are part of.
“I play openside flanker for school and for the Cyclones, and Holly-Rae plays midfield or flanker for our school team but she plays wing for the Cyclones.”
Playing blindside flanker, Holly-Rae scored the first of her team’s three tries in the final from a break 40 metres out and runaway to the line. Manukura would lead 12-7 at halftime and score the opening try of the second half which proved enough for victory.
“It was a hard game against St Mary’s, our toughest game of the year,” said Elinor-Plum, “but we won and achieved our goal for the season, which was to go undefeated.”
As well as winning this match, another notable win for Manukura was beating two-time defending national Top 4 champions Hamilton Girls’ High School 33-15 in June.
They comfortably won the Manawatu Secondary Schoolgirls competition and beat Feilding High School the previous week before playing St Mary’s.
The Top 4 was last contested in 2019, with Covid-19 preventing the last two tournaments from going ahead. So for five year 13s in the current side, last week’s win over St Mary’s was their final 15s game for their school. These players were Elinor-Plum, Holly-Rae, lock Katiola Afemui, hooker Kaea Boyd and wing Tui Aroha.
The Condor 7s went ahead last year and it is still hoped it can be played this year too. Manukura had a great run in Condors in 2020.
“We finished second to Howick College in the final last year, so that was really fun to be part of.”
Girls rugby at Manukura has come a long way since starting in 2015 with a 10-a-side team.
Elinor-Plum doesn’t have a preference for 15s or sevens. “I really enjoy playing sevens but 15s is more for me, it suits my game.”
As well as for school, many of Manukura’s players play club rugby, and a large contingent played for the Kia Toa and Feilding Old Boys-Oroua sides that met in the Manawatu club final earlier this winter.
“Most of us that played club rugby this year played for FOBO, except for a couple of girls who played for Kia Toa.”
Elinor-Plum’s FOBO side lost the final, but her consistent form saw her selected in the Cyclones squad, alongside Hollyrae.
“I didn’t know I was going to be picked, but when I got told by coach Fusi Feaunati it was really exciting.”
She made her NPC debut for Manawatu in the team’s round two win over Taranaki, starting at openside flanker, and has played five competition matches since. She scored her first NPC try in Manawatu’s 67-12 win over Hawke’s Bay in early August.
This coming weekend Manawatu plays Hawke’s Bay in the NPC Championship final - against her home province. She is from Ongaonga in central Hawke’s Bay, about 20km inland from Waipukurau.
“That’s where I started playing rugby, I have been playing since I was four and I started playing rippa rugby.”
Many of Manukura’s students are from outside Palmerston North. There is no hostel per se at the school, Elinor-Plum and outside students live with their whanau or with families of others around the city.
Next year, Elinor-Plum hopes to go to Massey University in Palmerston North and to continue playing club and hopefully representative rugby.
With the 15s season over, Manukura’s sevens programme starts shortly, with the team scheduled to play in the annual Hurricanes Schools 7s tournament in Masterton at the end of October.
Story and Manukura team photos by Steven White, for College Sport Media, October 2021.
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