Former All Blacks super coach Laurie Mains is spearheading plans to return country rugby players – from teams like Wakatipu and Arrowtown – to the Otago fold.
Mains, recently voted on the Otago Rugby Union board and appointed deputy chairman, says the new board wants to reinstate country rugby’s value.
“It’s been alarming to me to see the decline in status of country rugby in recent years. I mean the way that it’s viewed, the importance of it.
“We recognised at our last board meeting that there’s a very significant resource that maybe hasn’t been utilised as much in recent years as it could be,” Mains says.
Queenstown-based Mains, who coached Otago for nine years during the 1980s and early 1990s, says in those days he had six or seven country players in the team, making an “important contribution”.
He won’t go as far as saying the Otago union’s been neglecting country rugby and its players.
“[But] we feel in the past, in the last few years, that maybe as much as possible hasn’t been done.”
Among the first overtures is this coming Tuesday – a high-level delegation including Mains and Otago union boss Richard Reid head to Roxburgh to meet with the Otago Country Rugby board.
Mains says the main purpose is to listen to what country administrators think is needed to boost the status of the country game.
He’s loath to put forward proposals at this stage, but says changes to be considered include shaking up country rugby’s calendar to ensure maximum exposure for players to selectors and helping talented youngsters who make rep sides with accommodation and casual work in Dunedin.
“There’s no doubt there’s a great resource here – and with the development of Queenstown and Wanaka, it’s a significantly growing resource.”
Mains is echoed by new Otago coach Phil Mooney who says he and deputy David Latta – last year’s Otago Country coach – will scour the province to pick the best squad.
“One thing we’ve certainly got to acknowledge is it’s the Otago team, not a Dunedin team,” Mooney says.
Mains says in the past, country games turned up some of Otago rugby’s great names like Latta – a stalwart hooker for years.
Mains: “It was just such a critical part of Otago rugby that we need to restore it as effectively as we can.”