By Linda Clarke
Twenty young rugby players were putting in the hard yards at Ashburton College last weekend as an ambitious plan to rebuild secondary school rugby in the district began to unfold for 2020.
Under the eye of experienced coach Shane Enright, the players from Ashburton and Mt Hutt College have committed to the hours of training each week that come with playing for the Mid Canterbury Combined First XV.
The side has struggled in the UC Championship secondary school competition over the past few seasons, but a group of supporters and sponsors are investing time, resources and money in a five-year plan to make the team competitive again.
They say it is important for secondary school rugby across the district that the side stays in the Crusaders’ region first XV competition and there is a real risk that if it continued to languish at the bottom of the table it may risk losing a position in the competition. If this was to happen the chances of ever getting back in to the competition would be very difficult.
Enright is a coach who knows what it takes. He was in charge of the Ashburton College team that was the top South Island co-ed side in 2013 and went to Rotorua for the national co-ed champs. Stars from that team, Seta Koroitamana and Nete Caucau, are still playing the game at a high level for Mid Canterbury.
Enright is being assisted by Methven’s James Roderick and is still looking for a forwards coach and a team manager.
Others have been working hard in the background securing support for secondary school rugby and the district will also have a combined girls’ XV. Ashburton College is also hoping to enter an U15 boys team in a week-day competition.
The 20 young men on the playing field at Ashburton College last weekend ran a few skills drills and a gruelling Bronco fitness test to gauge how they were tracking since starting personal fitness programmes a month ago. They will need more to join their group.
Enright said he was pleased at their progress. Morning gym sessions will begin soon, along with training three times a week.
“We want to get a bit of pride back in the jersey and get kids to understand what first XV rugby is all about. It gives them the experience of going to Christs College or STAC and other big schools, and it also gets them ready to play senior rugby too when they leave school.”
Rugby numbers for the age group were dropping off around New Zealand. “We want the clubs to understand this is a good pathway.”
Enright said the players not only benefited from the rugby, but made friends and memories for life.
Supporters’ spokesman Brett Hobbs said the long-term goal was for rugby to be rebuilt at the same time as Ashburton College built its new $50 million campus.
“We want people to come and watch and be proud to support this team. We also want to see some of the historic pride of playing first XV rugby bought back into the schools and hope this may benefit the whole community in the long run. We are also playing against opposition that have mind-blowing budgets and resources so are constantly trying to see how we can get more sponsors on board.”
More details of the long-term plan will be released later and if anyone is keen to help they can email Brett at firstname.lastname@example.org.