Walters makes breakthrough with Waikato

John Walters went from playing senior club rugby to coaching it in the space of a year but it has taken a lot longer for the former Waikato wing to break into the representative coaching scene here.

Walters was yesterday named as the new Waikato ITM Cup assistant coach to head coach Chris Gibbes, replacing Scott McLeod who has joined Super Rugby side the Highlanders.

Walters, who played 26 matches for Waikato between 1991-96, will also work for the Waikato Rugby Union as a resource coach, supporting and developing club coaches throughout the province.

His appointment follows a season spent in a similar role for Bay of Plenty where he was assistant to head coach Kevin Schuler this year. Walters, 40, has been coaching now for 10 years and is the first Waikato coach for some time to come from a comprehensive club coaching background, having coached Hamilton Old Boys for four seasons as head coach, one as assistant coach and, after two years as Hong Kong head coach, half a season helping out.

"I played my last year for Old Boys in 2002 and then coached in 2003," Walters said. "I hadn't really considered coaching as a player until the end of my final season, then Larry Greene suggested I should consider giving it a go."

Walters was eased into the role as assistant to head coach Ross MacDonald and later worked with another experienced forwards coach in Gary Thomas.

"Between Larry, Ross and Thomo, who were all prominent coaches when I was playing, they ended up being a big help in my coaching career as well.

"I learnt some pretty good lessons early on from those guys and looking back on it now that probably sped up my coaching development as they had tried and trued coaching formulas which they passed on to me.

"That was how we got early success and with success comes that addictive feeling that you want to get better."

Walters soon found it was a difficult jump from club to provincial level but the man who has also coached various Chiefs and Waikato age-group rep sides said he always had faith in his ability to get there.

"I was prepared to do the work and I think coming from club rugby gives you a pretty good grounding. You learn a heck of a lot at club rugby and I always thought I had the knowledge for it and ability to do it so I just kept trucking.

"I guess a lot of people chuck it in before they get there because it is tough."

Walters said he had been helped by an extremely supportive and understanding wife as he balanced his amateur rugby coaching with holding down a fulltime job and bringing up four young children.

The move back to Waikato after one season with Bay of Plenty had been mostly down to that young family as well as his passion for Waikato rugby.

"It was an option to stay over there. They're great people and made me feel very welcome and I was pretty appreciative of the opportunity they gave me.

"I'm not really used to leaving things half done and Herb [Schuler] and I felt like we had unfinished business but at the end of the day my family had sacrificed a lot and what it came down to was the logistics of it."

His season with the Bay had shown him just how much pre-season work needed to be done with a large local group of non-Super Rugby players to cope with the rigours of a relatively short but extremely intense competition.

"You have to have those back-up players in place because you can't afford to play the Super 15 guys week-in, week-out and I guess that's the pretty attractive thing about Waikato that there's so much depth here."