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Friday 30 July 2010
By Peter White
Harbour coaches Craig Dowd and Jeff Wilson experienced most things in rugby while playing 60 tests each for the All Blacks in quite magnificent careers. But neither was quite expecting the rocky road they faced last year in their first season coaching together in what was a difficult season for Harbour.
Head coach Dowd says although last season was frustrating at times it was also a valuable learning curve.
“To start on such a high against Canterbury and then to go into the doldrums after that, and have some very close games that just sneaked away from us, was tough. One of the positives that did come out of last year was the way some of the players stood up, and we are looking to build on what we achieved there. But it is not acceptable to finish where we did last year. We know we are a better team than that so we are looking to get some good results.”
Dowd says lessons learnt from last season’s campaign have been well and truly taken on board by both the coaching staff and players.
“Going through the review process and talking to some pretty wise people, the comment came out there are two reasons why a game plan fails – either the players don’t understand it or they don’t buy into it.
“Last year the players didn’t quite understand what we were trying to achieve so this year we have made sure they actually understand to the point of giving them a lot of buy-in to what we are doing, and giving them more ownership of what we are trying to achieve out on the field.
“We have aspirations and self-belief within the team. We are confident we are going to have a good season, with making top seven the first part of the goal, but who knows after that. In this competition anybody can beat anybody. The one thing with the ITM Cup, now after the salary caps have come down, is the teams are a little bit more even.”
Assistant coach Wilson says he expects some natural improvement as he and Dowd prepare for their second season in charge at Harbour.
“Last year there were a lot of new guys understanding how Craig and I operated and getting experience at the professional level. Our first learning was it would take time for things to be put in place and it took about half way through the season for us to get to know the players. This year our relationship with the players has been so much more productive because we know what motivates them and where they can improve.
“We were inconsistent from week to week, and even in games we couldn’t hold our performance for a full 80 minutes. This year we have been pretty demanding of the players and our expectation of them at club level has been they show they are obviously professional players, the guys who train harder than everyone else, who know what is expected at the next level.”
This season’s squad features some players new to the jersey in winger Alipate Fatafehi, centre/winger Jack Tarrant, No 8 Matt Luamanu, halfback Grayson Hart, centre Brendon Watt and hooker Manu Leiataua.
Dowd says they bring the right mixture of experience at high level rugby plus off-field leadership qualities.
“Last year we identified we didn’t have enough of that and we had a very young team so when things got tough they had no one to turn to. They needed the experience of players who had been there and done that, which we have this year with players like Jack Tarrant, who played seven tests for Japan last year.”
Wilson says there was no easy ride into the team for the squad’s new players, as most were contracted only after they performed with distinction for their clubs.
“We are not a bunch of mercenaries. We are a bunch of guys who play our club rugby here and the new guys had to play here first and prove they were good enough. They did that and we have rewarded them with a contract, which is good.”