Three months ago, New Zealand's four-year reign as undisputed world age-group rugby champions ended.
On June 22 at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town, home team South Africa finally wrenched the crown from New Zealand's previously secure grasp with a 22-16 win in the IRB Junior World Championship (under-20) final.
It might not have caused major ripples on the world rugby scene, but it was a significant result nonetheless, and a few thousand kilometres away in Nelson, at least one person was taking a more-than- passing interest in New Zealand's demise.
For Gary Stevens, one of New Zealand's under-20 rugby selectors, it was a timely reminder of the changing face of international rugby - and that nothing lasts forever.
Since its commanding 38-3 win over England in the inaugural 2008 tournament in Wales, New Zealand have consistently set the standards with subsequent title successes in Japan, Argentina and Italy. But, as Stevens readily acknowledges, New Zealand had to lose eventually and, with a strong South Africa team responding superbly to some vociferous home support, it was time to finally hand over the mantle.
Stevens has been part of the national under-20 selectorial setup since 2009, one of several hats currently worn by the 43-year-old manager of the building inspectors team at Nelson City Council.
Besides his hands-on role as coach of the Tasman B representative team, he's also the Tasman Rugby Union's Academy manager and a key component in helping to develop the region's young playing talent into top-flight provincial, and in some cases, international representatives.
As a player, Stevens enjoyed a 10-year first-class career between 1991 and 2001 when he represented New Zealand Combined Services, Manawatu and Nelson Bays. His subsequent coaching portfolio involved stints with the Nelson senior club team, the Nelson College First XV, Nelson Bays, Tasman under-20s and South Island secondary schools.
But New Zealand's All Blacks are the world champions. They're constantly hogging the world's No 1 ranking and as such, it's logical to assume that there's pressure on the country's age-group selectors to keep producing a seamless supply of potentially world-class players.
But, despite now being an integral part of New Zealand's talent identification and high-performance programme, Stevens doesn't necessarily see it that way.
"There's not a lot of pressure per se," says Stevens. "It's quite an enjoyable role in terms of identifying talent at a young age. We essentially tap into them at under-17 level so we're looking at the under-16 tournaments that happen at the end of the year and through that programme, nationally we select a small group of guys."
In the South Island, he said that might equate to "maybe five to eight players a year".
"People develop at different rates and over the next couple of years, you'll find guys that are starting to put their hands up.
"Essentially what our role is is to find the cream, so that our national coaches and team selectors get the best guys to choose from for their programmes. We get them young, so that we can develop them over a period of time."
His obvious disappointment aside, Stevens admits he took New Zealand's loss in his stride.
"I'm quite a philosophical person in general and [losing the world title] had to happen some time and I know that, worldwide, the top eight teams have got significant development programmes in place now and a lot of them are based on what we started five years ago.
"They look at a New Zealand under-20 programme and see how successful it is and they strive to match it."
He said the New Zealand team, with Tasman prop Reuben Northover included as a late replacement, still acquitted themselves well in South Africa. New Zealand ultimately suffered two losses, recovering from an earlier 9-6 pool loss against Wales to beat them convincingly 30-6 in the semifinals.
"They played good rugby throughout the whole tournament . . . some of the guys that they were up against, particularly the European or UK-based teams, are very big, so again, philosophically, at some point that had to count for something. South Africa at home, and at every level, is bloody hard to beat. They would have thrown every resource into ensuring that they were successful.
"For world rugby, that's great to have it as competitive as it is."
Stevens says that, despite its size, Tasman continues to produce an impressive crop of young talent.
Including Northover, Tasman have now contributed players to each of New Zealand's previous four championship-winning under-20 teams. Quentin MacDonald and Kade Poki were part of the inaugural 2008 success in Wales and Hamish Cochrane was a member of the 2009 team in Japan. Tom Marshall and Sam Prattley helped New Zealand to the 2010 title in Argentina and Mitchell Scott was part of last year's winning side in Italy.
Further down the scale, current Tasman Makos squad member James Lowe was a New Zealand Schools representative in 2010, with Nelson College's Mitchell Drummond named last week in the New Zealand Barbarians Schools team.
Stevens is one of 10 under-20 selectors spread around the country and says that selecting the cream of New Zealand's emerging talent is an exhaustive and comprehensive process. He's confident that no-one slips through the cracks and that parochialism is never an issue.
His involvement at the top of the South Island means he also communicates with West Coast and Buller Heartland management.
"So you're talking to the guys on the ground to make sure you don't miss anyone. It's certainly not just me sitting up here looking for the talent in Nelson only. It's right across . . . and of course we watch a lot of the schoolboy rugby which is on TV.
"As a whole, we're very confident in our selection programme. Every year we get nominations for between 90 to 120 guys which starts around July-August and then from August through to the end of October . . . We filter through those nominations into a manageable group and then through our franchise convenors, we have regular conference calls discussing players, discussing our viewings, and we come up with a list.
"There's never a [set] figure. We take it seriously. We're not putting guys through for the sake of it.
"No-one's selfish enough to pump more players than they need to just to make their programmes better."
He says the selectors get guidance from the New Zealand Rugby Union and are kept up to date with player trends and possible deficiencies in player resources. For instance, if the NZRU considers there might be a shortage of quality hookers around the country in any given year, the selectors might accordingly promote more hookers into their trial process.
Once identified, every player receives an individual performance plan (IPP) with goals and targets where areas such as technical, tactical, physical, mental and leadership qualities are constantly assessed and developed.
"The NZRU have, for a long time, been using that mantra of ‘good people make good rugby players' and it still is the case."
Stevens admits there are some inherently negative aspects related to the role.
"The hardest thing about the whole role is to have someone who's so close to the acceptable line and then saying, it's my opinion that he's not ready. So not taking someone or not sending them to trials is probably the hardest part of the whole job.
"But it's important they get feedback [about] the reasons why, so it's not a hunch."
But he says it's rewarding to see the end product emerge through the system, with Tasman squad member, Canterbury loan player Jordan Taufua, a product of this year's under-20 programme. He was part of the New Zealand team in South Africa and the strapping No 8 is now impressing Tasman's supporters with his dynamic play in the ITM Cup competition.
"He's a fantastic guy. When I first saw Jordan 12 months ago through our viewing programme, he was obviously a big powerful guy. But there's a lot of guys around like that.
"Jordan is very motivated and he knows where he wants to go and that's pretty rare, but it's those kind of guys that rise to the top. So, of those 120 that get nominated, you might find that only half of them know where they want to go.
"There is a real fine line between the fact that they are only young kids, they haven't lived a lot of life and their resilience is always teetering on strength and weakness. But some of them truly do have it."
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