The newly-appointed coach of the Wakatipu Premiers rugby team says he’s both excited and daunted.
Justin Pewhairangi steps up after a season as assistant backs coach.
Former coach Damian ‘Dippers’ Petre is taking time out after becoming a father.
“It’s a challenge I’ve really wanted for a while,” the 39-year-old says.
Pewhairangi, whose cousins Cole and Ryan used to play for the Wakatipu Premiers, says he also wanted to play last year, after arriving in Queenstown in 2012.
“But I tore my bicep in pre-season and ‘Dippers’ was kind enough to take me on.”
Brought up in rugby-mad Mataura, Southland, Pewhairangi left for a holiday in Australia when he was 19 and “never came home”.
During 17 years in Queensland, he initially played premiership rugby in Brisbane before joining a sub-districts club.
“I had a lot of injuries, though, which pushed me into coaching.”
At 23 he did two years’ coaching, played again after a knee reconstruction, then ended up doing several more seasons’ coaching.
“The last season in Australia, I got a lot more involved in game plans and team selection.
“This sounds old-fashioned, but simplicity’s sometimes overlooked with rugby.
“You can spend hours training flash moves, and you might use a move once in the game.
“Why spend 30 minutes doing it when you can spend 30 minutes doing the basics so that catching and passing just come naturally?”
Pewhairangi also wants to get his players really fit during pre-season training, which started this week.
He says prop Brett ‘Big Show’ Anderson will help with drills and from April his uncle Wiluke, a former Southland age-group coach, will also assist.
However he’s encouraged that the core of last year’s team will be back.
He’s keen to include players from the second-tier Wanderers side in Tuesday trainings so they can make the step up to the Premiers more easily, if called on.
Pewhairangi welcomes the new Central Otago format, under which top and bottom teams will be split from the start, allowing more competitive rugby week after week. He says: “It’s hard to keep the boys interested when you’re getting beaten by 50 or you’re beating teams by 50.”
The competition starts on March 21 with a mouth-watering derby between the Wakatipu and Arrowtown Premiers.
Last season, Wakatipu lost its semi-final to Arrowtown in extended extra time, after winning the competition in 2012 and making the final in 2013.
Pewhairangi says a highlight of his time in Australia was winning a premiership after his team went unbeaten all season.
It’s an experience he’s very keen to repeat in Queenstown.
Wakatipu Rugby Club pre-season training takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays at Queenstown Recreation Ground from 6pm