Your job is to create heroes *Updated

ANTHONY AU-YEUNG/GETTY IMAGES In All Blacks wing Rieko Ioane, Tana Umaga’s Blues have arguably the world’s most lethal finisher. 

I grew up in the Thames Valley (New Zealand version) in the 1970s. Saturday was for playing midget rugby – barefoot and in teams creatively named “Red”, “Blue”,  “Green” or “Gold”. The bags of jerseys smelt divine and in those days we certainly kept the score. I went home for lunch and then returned to Rhodes Park in Thames (on my bike – the red rocket) and sat in the stands and idolised club rugby players like Graham Bax of Hui Mai who I swear could drop a goal from 80 metres out (and was later better known as the father of Kylie).

On Sunday morning my life revolved around waiting for the Sunday papers and reading about the exploits of the greats in Auckland club Rugby. Ponsonby, Marist, University. Peter Whiting, Bryan Williams, Andy Haden, Greg Burgess, Steve Watt (the goal kicking prop), Gary Cunningham, Tim Twigden …

For me 1975 had a key moment with the great “water polo” test against Scotland. Bryan Williams simply brilliant.

1976 was the tour on Andy Leslie’s mighty men to South Africa (while Mourie took a team to Argentina – also called the All Blacks – crazy days). People who would today have been Blues players – Sid Going, Bryan Williams, Peter Whiting, Joe Morgan, Hamish MacDonald – were to the fore.

1977 had the Lions in NZ and people like Dr Laurie Knight (probably of Grammar) – were inspirational – as was a very wonky Bruce Robertson drop goal that any kid could emulate – and all was good in the world. Lew Halsey kept scoring tries in Thames club rugby and I got to play for the Thames Valley under 7-stone reps. In the back yard – with my 50 cent plastic boots I was Bee Gee and the step of my right foot – I swear – was almost as big (even if my quads were smaller than his wrists).

Fast forward to 1987. Somehow – as a 20 year old – I am on Eden park and, as I look across the halfway line there are a mass of players that have just won the inaugural rugby world cup. I can still list them as legends of NZ rugby – Drake, Fitzpatrick, McDowell, G. Whetton, M. Brooke, A. Whetton, Brooke-Cowden, Z. Brooke, Adam, Fox, Wright, McCahill, Stanley, Kirwan, Harris (with people like Peter Fatialofa on the bench, Kirk and Jones – injured).  I now forgive myself for playing the worst 80 minutes of rugby in the history of the sport (Mark Adam – my opposite scored 4 tries) because I could not believe I was on the same piece of grass as these people. We failed to lift the Ranfurly Shield but I did get to touch it and, if I had taken the intercept I attempted in the last couple of minutes I would have run as far as Kirwan did against Italy and closed the gap to 50 points.

Fast forward again. This time to 2003. I had previously coached the Tauranga Boys College 1st XV to considerable national success and then moved to Hamilton and took the Hamilton Boys High U15s to a national final and the Waikato under 16s to a similar result. In the year 2000 I had coached the Auckland university U21s to an Auckland title and helped many young players move towards their aspirations.

From 2001 to 2003 Graeme Syms, Gary Braid and myself had built on the University of Auckland Premiers heritage, that I had mentioned in the 1970s, and that had been more than secured by that greatest of coaches – Graham Henry. We really did have a superb team and selected from the likes of John Afoa, Chris Heard, Angus MacDonald, Jerome Kaino, Daniel Braid, James Arlidge, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, Ilisea Tamivula, Sione Kepu, Joe Rokocoko, Brett Ward, etc. I was coaching my heroes and had to pinch myself at times to check that I was awake and not the small boy dreaming of a future. Even with those great names we lost in the Gallaher Shield final to a very good Waitemata team.  The season highlight was beating a very good Ponsonby side at Western Springs by 30 points – with Sir Bee Gee present at his important club.

What is my point?

There have been so many bad decisions accumulated in Auckland Rugby over the last twenty years. I am tempted to detail a few but that involves naming names and the defensive response that this could bring would defeat the purpose. The consistency of folly can only point to a deep misunderstanding of the purpose of the game in the biggest city of our beautiful, small, but passionate nation. It is not to make money, to build organisations or to pay huge salaries to executives … it is to create heroes. Men and women of character and superb rugby skills that make teams together to inspire the next generation. It is time to work out how to get players back into the clubs and keep them (and their families) there until their 30s. It is time to reconnect to the community. We recently had a very good All Black visit one of our schools and barely a student knew who he was. I had Bill Osborne visit my school as a teen and it was like a national holiday.

It is time to clear the table and get the priorities right. The results will then take care of themselves.  The kids need heroes and the game is important. 45,000 going to a test against France shows that there is still passion in the city. There are no excuses. Kids love the game but most of their heroes are All Blacks from other unions. Time for change at the very heart of the game in Auckland.

 

by Alwyn Poole


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A guest post submitted to Whaleoil and edited by Whaleoil staff.

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