Special ton for blond youngster from Mataura
Tomorrow the Southland rugby centurions club will get another member. Logan Savory caught up with Jimmy Cowan, who will become the latest player to bring up three figures in the maroon jersey.
It was July 19, 2000 and an 18-year-old boy from Mataura ran on to Rugby Park for his first appearance for Southland.
It was a blond halfback, a little rough around the edges and with a high level of enthusiasm about him. He was entering the Southland rugby scene.
Those in country areas of Southland had already caught a look at him and many wondered if this kid had something special about him on the rugby paddock.
That day in 2000 was a pre-season game against Otago and for halfback Jimmy Cowan it was his tentative steps into the world of provincial rugby.
He followed the likes of Davin Heaps and Steve Jackson on to Rugby Park for cap No 1 for Southland and the first words were penned in a lengthy and remarkable rugby story.
"I remember it vividly," Cowan said yesterday about his Southland debut.
"Prior to the game the NPC team hadn't been made up, I was told it was a trial and they would be picking the team on my performance today. I knew it was a big game for myself, it's one game I did enjoy and I managed to play all right and ended up being picked in the NPC squad that year."
Many losses, many wins, many highs, many lows, plenty of captains, plenty of coaches they've all flowed under the Southland rugby bridge since that game.
But one thing has remained intact - that of course being the presence of Jimmy Cowan.
Fast-forward the clock to just a touch over 12 years and that blond halfback from Mataura will again run on to Rugby Park, this time to bring up the century of games for Southland.
He will join an elite club which only has 10 other members.
He will also join an even more prestigious club which quite probably will never be added to again.
Cowan's 100th provincial game will add to the 100 Super Rugby games he played and 50 tests he racked up for the All Blacks.
Only Tana Umaga has even completed that remarkable treble and in the current climate in which All Blacks play very little provincial rugby it is hard to imagine anyone else ever achieving the feat.
"It's very special to be held in his bracket, we all know he's a legend of the game, so for a guy like me to come out of the freezing works in Mataura and to achieve what I have achieved is special.
"I've had a lot of luck along the way and a lot of help and support. I think's it's just a reflection of the people that have stood by me through the low times and the high times."
Cowan has openly suggested rugby has provided him the light to help guide him in the right direction in life.
He doesn't know where he might be today without rugby but is confident in saying he is better off having it.
"I'd like to think I would have travelled, but quite possibly I could be still doing what a lot of my mates are doing now in the workforce and still playing club stuff with Mataura. They enjoy that and they love that aspect but they haven't seen the bigger picture that I've seen. I could well have gone down that road as well."
Cowan remembers the day when he was introduced to the world of provincial rugby.
It came via a visit from Leicester Rutledge and Mark "Ziggy" Seymour one day in Gore.
They were visiting on behalf of Rugby Southland and wanted the teenager's signature.
"They both came when I was playing (for Southland Country) against South Canterbury at the Showgrounds. I ended up signing a contract then and there in the car park after the game. It was a three-year deal when I was 18," Cowan explains.
"I was pretty green and raw at the time so when it was put in front of me I didn't go through all the clauses as such I just went straight to the back page and signed. I'd seen the figures and thought ‘jeez, I've got some pocket money for the next couple of years."
His journey with the Stags is nearing an end as he eyes the next chapter in his rugby career which is a move to Gloucester to play in the English Premiership.
He would love to mark his 100th appearance with a win tomorrow but says it is more about getting a difficult 2012 Stags season back on track than marking his special milestone.
Southland is winless after four games and is in desperate need of competition points and some confidence.
"It's hard at the moment. For me we're going through another cycle, we're trying to develop again. Just because we've had those golden years people think it's going to happen year in year out. Everyone goes through it, we've just got to hang tough. We're only one game away, hopefully that win is not too far away."
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