Collins brings a lot to the table

GLENN MCLEAN
Last updated 07:00 07/12/2013
Michael Collins
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ
MIKE COLLINS: "A strength of Mike Collins’ appointment is that he has already immersed himself in club and representative rugby."

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New Taranaki Rugby boss Michael Collins forged a strong reputation as a player during a career that often saw him at the forefront of the teams he was involved in.

Being a prop, it was only natural he was at the front-end of the business that needed to be done.

Whether it was for New Plymouth Boys' High School, Waikato, or the Chiefs, Collins was someone team-mates turned to.

Former Taranaki and Blues coach Jed Rowlands, who was in charge of the Boys' High first XV when they took out the unofficial secondary schools world cup in 1992, saw in Collins the qualities he wanted in a leader. In fact, Rowlands had seen something a bit different from Collins a couple of years earlier.

"He came into the first XV when he was a fifth former, into the front row, which was a pretty mean feat then and he showed plenty of determination and leadership," he said.

"Even as a young fella he didn't sit back and if he thought something needed to be changed, he would talk about it. I think the manner he had with the boys and his team-mates was a big thing. He would do anything for them, in a quiet but a good way."

It would have been an interesting team to be in front of, especially with the likes of future All Blacks captain Reuben Thorne, as well as future Super Rugby reps Campbell Feather, Mark Urwin, Daniel Smith and Daryl Lilley.

Rowlands holds the view that Collins always wanted success to be shared, an obviously important ingredient in team sport.

"The respect he has in the rugby community in New Zealand is very high and I think that is because he just does the job, he's not ego-driven and he's there for the right reasons.

"He might be wondering if he has done the right thing taking on the [Taranaki] job, but he will give it everything he has got, there's no doubt about that. He'll do it for [the] right reasons, not for Michael Collins, but for Taranaki rugby and that's what he is all about."

Collins moved from the comforts of secondary school north to Hamilton, where he spent the next part of his formative years studying for a planning degree at Waikato University, and playing club footy, before eventually being called up to the representative side.

There was no turning back.

Seventy-three games for Waikato followed, along with 82 for the Chiefs, including the 1999 season as captain.

Marriage to Canadian wife Sarah followed, as did children Abby, now 13, and Joe, 11, before Collins headed to Britain to see out his playing career with London Irish and Glasgow.

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His return home coincided with his appointment as rugby development manager for the Taranaki union, a job which lasted between 2008 and 2012 before he left to pursue other opportunities.

The circle was completed this week when he was judged by the union's board as the best candidate from the four they had short-listed.

Collins always looked to be the favourite for the job, however, especially after he was asked to step in and take over after Neil Pennington's sudden resignation in October.

It was a tricky period, with team and management reviews to complete. Collins' credentials for the job were scrutinised by the board and its chairman Lindsay Thomson.

"There was a lot on," Thomson points out. "But the board has been highly impressed with what Michael has done in that interim period. It also gave him that time to ensure he was keen to apply for the role. That was part of the reason we delayed taking any applications in that first month."

Collins found the first few weeks as acting boss gave him some real understanding around what was required.

"Coming into it, there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than you appreciate," he said.

"Just getting my head around the bits and pieces - contracting, managing staff, the interface with the NZRU [New Zealand Rugby Union] and other PU's [provincial unions], the amount of detail that goes into it, it was a bit of a surprise."

Thomson said Collins held an advantage because he had worked for the union previously, he understood the "culture" of the union, while his understanding of high-performance sport and his contacts within the industry were also significant positives.

Of course, getting the job can be the easy part. Doing an effective job can be another matter.

As always, there will be cynics and critics who will doubt his credentials for the job or worry too much about his close allegiance with sectors of Taranaki's rugby community.

There are also the challenges of turning around an average National Provincial Championship season, keeping the union profitable after some significant losses and the problem of battling to help keep provincial rugby sustainable in a market that continues to be squeezed.

"If you work at a provincial union, you are always going to have challenges and first and foremost it is performance, especially in the ITM Cup, and Taranaki is no exception," Collins said.

"Every year we need to get the planning right around recruitment, make sure we have the right sort of game plan and structure, and we will be looking three or four times as hard at that next year to what we probably did this year.

"That's a priority, to get that right, but just as importantly we have to deliver club rugby and school rugby."

The impending deal with the Chiefs could also prove a difficult PR exercise, although Collins' history with the franchise must be to the union's advantage. Not that Thomson was keen to elaborate just yet.

"Obviously I think it probably assists us, having a CEO who understands Waikato and has played many times for the Chiefs," he said.

Thomson said the swiftness of Collins' appointment reflected the work that needed to be done.

In his heart, Collins wants to be part of helping New Zealand rugby and was happy to forgo opportunities to work overseas where his specialist scrum coaching has been in demand, particularly in Japan.

As for his priorities now he is in the job?

"At the absolute front of my mind is recruitment, because this is recruitment time for next season. We are working really hard on that at the moment."

- Taranaki Daily News

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