When you talk about successful rugby teams, they all share one common trait: They have a strong team culture, guys want to be there for each other, on and off the field.
Something that has been focused on during the past three weeks within this year's Stags squad is creating a strong culture and environment.
A team can have everything - great players, great coaching, and a great game plan.
Some people think you can put together a team full of players from different backgrounds and instantly get success. In most cases, this proves not to be true.
From 2008 to 2011, our squad had a strong core of senior players who were not just mates on the field, they were mates off it.
The majority of these guys were proud southern men.
After 2011, many of those senior players moved on.
Last year a whole host of younger players were introduced into the squad, many of whom were new to Southland.
They brought with them not only their rugby playing abilities, but also their own culture and way of life.
After reviewing last year's season at our camp in Omaui three weeks ago, we concluded that we had taken for granted what was a great team culture over the golden Ranfurly Shield era.
At camp, we all stood up in front of the team and told each other about where we grew up, what it meant personally to play for the Stags and what we would bring to the team this year.
Doing this revealed to many of the players another side we had not seen before, and gave the guys a closer connection to some of their new team-mates.
Whether it was family, friends or the people who have helped us along the way, everyone had a strong reason for playing for the Stags.
We then came up with what values and traits we want to live by this season.
After a vote, we came up with loyalty, integrity, work ethic and pride.
On top of coming up with values, we have also brought in several time slots for the team to gather outside of training.
After the last training of every week we shower then sit down to have dinner together in the supporters club at Rugby Park.
We have also this year been lucky enough to have the crew down at Speight's Ale House put on a team lunch after every captain's run the day before a home match.
For guys in the team such as John Hardie and Tayler Adams, who are not shy of a word or two, the opportunity to sit around with team-mates and have a laugh after training is all part of developing a positive culture within the team.
Some of the boys are even lucky enough for Hardie to share a couple of horse racing tips if he's feeling generous.
The boys are very grateful for the food and drink from not only Speight's Ale House, but also Gatorade for providing the boys with sports drink, and Blue River Dairy for its sheepmilk powder to help the boys recover after trainings.
As we head into tomorrow's game against Tasman, we know it is vital to get the season off to a good start.
Despite our pre-season loss to Otago last Friday, the boys are still confident in the direction the team is heading.
Several young guys had their first taste of provincial rugby and we started to put in place game plans and patterns of play.
Several mistakes and a lack of discipline compounded to gift Otago several tries.
We know if we cut those mistakes out, and bring intensity in the contact area, we will give ourselves a good chance of kicking off the season on the right foot.
Scott Eade is a member of the 2013 Stags squad and a journalism student. He is providing us with a weekly column during the NPC.
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