Every game a 900km effort

STU PIDDINGTON
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2014
Mackenzie rugby players
STU PIDDINGTON/Fairfax NZ

HARD YARDS: Some Mackenzie rugby players travel almost two hours each way to make practice. From left are Sam Forsyth, of Lindis Pass, Arthur Dyer, of Simon’s Pass, Cory Hollister and George Williams, both of Sailor’s Cutting.

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An old van carries a special cargo to and from Fairlie each week, covering up to 900 kilometres.

Inside are seven dedicated members of the Mackenzie rugby team, travelling twice a week, to practice and to games.

The van usually starts from Sailors's Cutting on the shores on Lake Benmore, picking up players as it goes, and is full by the time it reaches Irishman's Creek, with half the journey still to go.

George Williams and Sam Forsyth share the driving, as they travel farthest in the loop.

Williams says there is something special about the Rams.

He could take the easy option and travel 20 minutes to play for Kurow.

"Mackenzie is a better club and it is a better competition [than North Otago]."

There is also a special camaraderie with those that make the journey each week.

"We are good mates, we tell stories and it goes quickly."

Coach Justin Geary says it is just something that happens in the high country, when you want to play rugby.

However, it is more than that; it is about the culture the Mackenzie Rugby Club has managed to weave together.

After practice twice a week, they head to the team sponsors at the Gladstone Hotel, who provide a meal.

With the exception of the driver, the boys also have a beer but the social scene means it is almost midnight before the last players climb out of the van.

They are not alone in driving long distances: a fair number also travel Haldon Rd to get to practice while assistant coach Terry Murray makes the journey from Milford, Temuka.

Team protocols state everyone must be there by 7pm and, with a 24-pack-of-beer fine on the line, Geary says no-one is late.

"It's about respecting each other, it's part of our culture."

There is an air of excitement as the Rams will host Harlequins today to decide the last spot in the Hamersley Cup grand final.

The players have been doing the journey for a few years, no matter where they sit in the competition.

Geary admits the Mackenzie side is more than just about rugby, it forms an integral part of the community. "It is definitely the hub over the winter, a chance for people to get together and something to get excited about."

Farming, especially in the high country can be lonely, so there is also a strong social side, which has been boosted by their winning ways. "Usually, on the far touch, there is a line of cars and utes," Geary says.

"This season it has been three deep and you have get here early for a front-row spot.

"The support we get from the community is massive."

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- The Timaru Herald

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