Tough work starts now for Waikato

Matamata Chronicle - - News -

With a highly in­ex­pe­ri­enced squad and new coaches ap­pointed at short no­tice it could have been worse but af­ter fin­ish­ing with wins over Bay of Plenty and Taranaki ( 22- 14 in Hamil­ton on Satur­day night) to avoid the em­bar­rass­ment of rel­e­ga­tion the plan­ning for next sea­son must start now.

The ex­cuse of in­ex­pe­ri­ence and re­build­ing can only be sus­tained for so long and Waikato coaches John Wal­ters and Carl Hoeft know it.

They moved up the peck­ing or­der from as­sis­tant coach and scrum coach re­spec­tively when Chris Gibbes quit as head coach un­ex­pect­edly ear­lier this year to take up a coach­ing job in Wales and had lim­ited say in the re­cruit­ment of their squad.

Waikato have lost a huge amount of ex­pe­ri­ence over the last cou­ple of sea­sons and on Satur­day night waved good­bye to another cou­ple of key cam­paign­ers in loose­head prop Toby Smith and cen­tre Save Tokula, who are both head­ing over­seas to more lu­cra­tive play­ing con­tracts.

Those gaps will have to be filled but a num­ber of promis­ing young play­ers are go­ing to have to step up next year and take on the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lift­ing both the skill level, par­tic­u­larly in the area of fin­ish­ing, and the con­sis­tency of the team.

Satur­day night again showed those are the key in­gre­di­ents miss­ing this year as they used the wind well to build a 15-0 half­time lead that should have been greater at Waikato Sta­dium and then struck straight af­ter half­time with an ex­cel­lent con­verted try to grab a win­ning lead of 22-0 be­fore hang­ing on in the face of a strong Taranaki come­back.

‘‘I think we fell in the trap at the 50-minute mark of pro­tect­ing a lead and not con­tin­u­ing to play some rugby,’’ Wal­ters said af­ter the match.

‘‘We kicked out of our own 22 a cou­ple of times [into the wind] when we’d asked them to look for the run op­tions on that, but it’s been a tough sea­son for the boys and they fin­ished it well and I’m proud of them.’’

While Waikato scored 24 tries in 10 matches for four wins and six losses, they con­ceded 36.

But Wal­ters would like to think they have put down a marker for fu­ture sea­sons with the heavy in­vest­ment in young play­ers this year.

‘‘It’s pretty en­cour­ag­ing, given the age of some of th­ese guys. Not only have they not played a lot of rugby at this level but we’ve got four or five 19-year-olds out there and it bodes well for the fu­ture.

‘‘Those guys will be work­ing hard in the off-sea­son and come back even bet­ter next sea­son, so that’s ex­cit­ing.’’

They will start their plan­ning for 2014 later this week once they have com­pleted one-on-one sea­son re­views with all their play­ers.

‘‘We’ve al­ready spent a bit of time on a bit of our stuff for next year so we’ve got to make sure that we as coaches grow from the ex­pe­ri­ence as well and put to­gether a good plan for next year.’’

Like the Chiefs they are putting a heavy em­pha­sis in their re­cruit­ment on good char­ac­ter, play­ers who are pre­pared to work hard and grow their game.

‘‘Luck­ily we’ve got a lot of guys who fit that mould here al­ready.’’

Wal­ters said it ap­peared the ITM Cup from now on was go­ing to be about bring­ing young play­ers through in or­der to pro­mote them to the next level.

In ad­di­tion to the young­sters blooded this year there are three na­tional schools reps from last year – lock James Tucker and backs An­ton Lienert-Brown and Re­gan Ware – who missed al­most all the sea­son through in­jury and will be avail­able next year as well as another bunch of ta­lented new re­cruits.

On the lo­cal scene all the lo­cal mem­bers of the New Zealand Schools team this sea­son have been re­tained in the prov­ince, in­clud­ing a group from the na­tional cham­pion Hamil­ton Boys’ High squad, while the likes of star Gore-born Christ’s Col­lege first­five Damien McKen­zie and Marl­bor­ough Boys’ Col­lege tight­head prop Atu Moli have also been re­cruited.

‘‘Our first goal was to re­tain our own and then look to com­ple­ment those guys in dif­fer­ent po­si­tions from around the coun­try and we’ve done pretty well there.

‘‘We’ve got about six head boys in the group we’ve got com­ing in so again we’re get­ting good char­ac­ter.’’

The coaches will start work­ing with the young play­ers as early as next month but will look to bring in more ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers if nec­es­sary in some po­si­tions de­pend­ing on where the gaps ap­pear to be.

‘‘In or­der to re­ally get the best growth out of th­ese young guys we need to have some ex­pe­ri­ence around them on the field to lead the way,’’ Wal­ters said.

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