Rugby sub union woes suggest it's time to start planning
While attention for most Marlborough rugby followers now is on the All Blacks and the Tasman Makos ITM Cup campaign, a fair bit of soul-searching and planning should be under way at sub-union level.
The big questions for administrators must be - "where to now for Marlborough and Nelson Bays sub-union senior teams and for the respective club competitions?"
The dumbing down of the Marlborough sub-union programme this year, including the Seddon Shield schedule, was a disgrace for two unions in particular.
South Canterbury defaulting a pre-season match against the Red Devils was bad enough but what followed was worse. West Coast pulling out of a challenge, which had been scheduled last year.
Marlborough had helped finance West Coast's trip to Blenheim last year. For them to snub the challenge this year and then, a week later, play the Tasman Makos at Murchison was a joke.
Thankfully, the coveted shield, one of New Zealand's oldest and most famous rugby trophies, was shown the respect it deserved by Buller and Nelson Bays.
The passion with which Marlborough defended it up until the Nelson Bays loss and the way Nelson Bays celebrated after their victory, showed the magic is still very much alive.
What the administrators from Marlborough, Nelson Bays, West Coast and Buller must do now is to set a Seddon Shield window in place which fits in with club and Makos commitments and maybe give West Coast officials two copies so they don't conveniently forget.
Maybe a long weekend, say Queen's Birthday would be ideal, playing all matches in that weekend, each union taking turns to host it. First-day winners meet in the Seddon Shield decider and that way it's all done and dusted in three days.
Maybe add two leadup matches to prepare and don't bother with South Canterbury.
As for the club structure. Marlborough's 47-7 loss to Nelson Bays in the end-of-season Seddon Shield rout was like a bolt from the blue, a massive wake-up call to all involved in the game here that improvements and changes need to be made to get up to speed.
We are part of an elite union, Tasman, which plays at the top level. Its players, coaches and administrators are semi-professional or professional.
Seven players from Marlborough club rugby are in this year's Makos team. That's the most in any season since the union was formed in 2006 and is proof you can make the grade from Marlborough.
It's no coincidence that the increasing group of players putting in the hard yards at training, both during the season and in the off-season, are the ones making the team or seriously challenging for places.
The bigger this group gets, the more it will attract others because there's no shortcuts to playing rugby in the top division where the commitment is significant.
The Tasman Trophy was a very successful competition this year. It provided a fresh challenge for players and coaches from both sides of the hill and drew a line in the sand as far as the standard required to win the competition is concerned.
While Marlborough clubs produced a few wins, Nelson teams generally dominated. Why not play two rounds of Tasman Trophy and finish the season with a full round of a Marlborough and Nelson Bays-only competition? The more players here are subjected to a higher standard of rugby, the faster they will improve and with that there should be no reason why a team from Marlborough couldn't win it.
Clubs must take responsibility for the future of rugby in Marlborough and the recruiting and squad building process for 2013 should have already begun.
Quality coaching is another vital ingredient and generally the clubs with the best coaches attract the better players.
A word of praise for two dedicated coaches who, by choice, do their jobs largely unheralded, but put a huge amount of time and energy into trying to make players and teams better - Red Devils coaches Steve Crockett and Peter Jones. Both have also coached extensively at club level and it's people like them that hold together the rugby fabric here.
Players looking for a bit of inspiration should take the time to visit the Blenheim, Wairau or Picton Rowing Clubs. They produce world champion rowers and coaches who know there is no magic formula for success - just hard work.
The Marlborough Express