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Uni rugby a winner for alumni

Tuesday, 9 May 2017 11:00am

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NZU players Tom Hardy (Left, #2) and Angus Williams (#17) shut down a Bay of Plenty Wasps player on 25 April at Blake Stadium, Mt Maunganui

They may have hung up their boots some time ago, but several Otago alumni continue their involvement with New Zealand Universities (NZU) rugby to pass on an “ethos” that has benefitted them, both on and off the field.

After appearing for the NZU team for several years in the 1990s, including a stint as captain, Physical Education graduate Brendon Timmins has enjoyed coaching the side for several years.

“I was proud to play for NZU sides between 1990 and 1994 as a lock/loose forward and I remember many highlights from my playing days – it was pretty special captaining the win over the Fijian national team in 1994.”

Brendon, who is now the team’s head coach, says he also relished the opportunity to travel to Italy for three weeks to represent NZU at the 1992 Student Rugby World Cup.

“I was able to do this because I played for the Otago University Rugby Football Club and because of the support of my PE school lecturers.”

Otago alumni are well represented in team management and support roles; assistant coach Simon Forrest completed a BCom at Otago in 1991 and played for Canterbury, and the team’s doctor is Steve Williams (BMedSc 1991, MB ChB 1994).

Uni players make the grade . . .

Brendon says University of Otago players Tom Hardy (Hooker), Angus Williams (Prop), Jack Sherratt (Lock) and Damien Scott (Flanker) have been selected.

While it is not always possible to name a full-strength team due to injury and Super Rugby and provincial rugby commitments, he is optimistic about the team’s strength.

NZU team management try to ensure players have a “springboard-experience”, which will benefit them in subsequent professional or club environments.

Brendon tries to enhance players’ appreciation of what being in a representative team entails, and pass on insights about the need for good playing skills and fitness.

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Brendon Timmins

“We also encourage players to express themselves – it’s an ethos I was exposed to as an NZU player. So, if an opportunity presents itself, or players can create something on the field that may go against the general tactical plan, we say ‘go for it’. We try and allow them to have that enjoyment of the game that’s a carry-over from rugby’s more amateur days.”

Playing with the NZU side has been part of many successful players’ “journey”, including All Blacks Conrad Smith, Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read. Similarly, University A, Otago and recent Highlanders signing Matt Faddes undertook NZU duties at centre in 2015, as did flanker Dillon Hunt in 2016.

The NZU played the Wasps (BoP selection) on ANZAC Day (25 April) at Blake Park in Mt Maunganui and lost 21-33. Brendon had predicted a close encounter with the Kanto XV (East Japan) on 29 April in the Chiefs vs. Sunwolves curtain-raiser at Waikato Stadium, and this proved to be the case; the team came away with a 17-14 win.

A global game . . .

The win was the latest chapter in a long rivalry with Japanese sides, which began in 1936 when the NZU team became the first New Zealand rugby team to play in Japan.

While that early tour involved wins by comfortable margins for the NZU team, games are now more closely contested, Brendon says.

“Japanese teams are becoming more aware of rugby’s nuances and continuity, and a style usually associated with the free-flowing game played in New Zealand.”

The lecturer and consultant for the Otago Polytechnic Institute of Sport and Adventure has had some experience of Japanese rugby; the former lock was contracted to coach Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara in 2008 and 2009, then Toyota Heavy Industries Corporation in 2010. Before this, Brendon played 100 games for Otago (75) and Southland (25) from 1992 to 2002, and has since had many roles in southern rugby, revolving around technical strength and conditioning work, forward coaching, player development and academy managing.

ABOUT: The NZU draws players from Otago, Canterbury, Auckland, Waikato, Massey, Lincoln and Victoria universities and the affiliated sides such as Old Boys University, Napier Pirates and Marist North Harbour. Its first match was against the University of Sydney on 4 July 1908.

The first All Blacks chosen from a University club were three quarters Colin Gilray and Donald Macpherson, both of Otago, who played in the 1905 test against Australia after the 1905-1906 “Originals” had left for Britain.

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