Identity remains a vital component to Farriers Wairarapa-Bush, says Joe Harwood, and for that reason don’t expect to see a flood of “import” players pulling on the jersey in 2018.
Finishing on the second bottom rung of the 2017 Mitre 10 Heartland Championship ladder was not part of Harwood’s plan when he took charge at the end of last year. Nor will it be next season, having been re-appointed as head coach for another two years.
A quick fix won’t be bolstering his team with a bunch of players from outside of the region, he says.
“There will be one or two areas that we will probably need to look elsewhere for players, but we still remain focused on selecting guys that play in the local club rugby competition,” Harwood says.
Player depth was badly exposed in 2017 with Wairarapa-Bush managing just one win from eight matches. As a group of players and management they have learned a huge amount from the experience.
“We gave a lot of local players opportunity, and we know now that a lot more work needs to be done to get these guys up to a level that they need to be, to be competitive.”
Harwood says he is fully supportive of the WBRU’s strategic plan to have a local-player based team and “we gave it a good nudge”, but a whole lot more needs to happen for that to become a reality.
“A priority will be to have a meeting with club coaches as soon as possible, and then sit down and look at recruitment to the club competition.
“The reality is the standard of our club rugby is not at a level where it needs be. One of the aims of the coaching-management team is to help lift this.”
Harwood says, if there is an opportunity to attract a couple of “class players” to play club rugby that would be fantastic – “it will help raise the standard of club rugby.”
A big focus in 2017 was to reward local players that were committed. As injuries started to mount, a number of new selections came from second-tier players. While their lack of experience didn’t help the cause, the approach did unearth new talent. In total 12-new players were blooded
Despite the difficult season, Harwood says it is a huge honour to coach Wairarapa-Bush’s premier rugby team and he is excited about next season.
Just who will assist Harwood, a former Heartland Championship winning captain, is unclear with incumbent James Bruce not seeking re-appointment. Long serving manager Gavin Hodder has also stood down, replaced by Shay O’Gorman.
Wairarapa-Bush chief executive officer Tony Hargood says the coaching selection panel has full confidence in Harwood.
“We fully believe that the team is in good heart and that plans are in place to ensure a successful 2018 season,” Hargood says.
Hargood paid tribute to Bruce and Hodder, who have both been “stalwarts” of Wairarapa-Bush rugby for a number of years. Bruce did not re-apply as he was unable to commit to it full-time, but will still be involved at club rugby.
While results in the Heartland Championship were disappointing, as a union Wairarapa-Bush is performing well with many players gaining selection in age-grade teams, including NZ Heartland Under-19, Hurricanes Under-18 and NZ Maori Under-18.
“At a Heartland level we blooded a dozen new players this season, plus with all of the other young talent coming through that should bare fruit for us in the future,” Hargood says.