Taylor Fenwick scores for Greytown against Marist last year. PHOTOS/FILE

RUGBY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Club stalwart Mark Childs will coach Greytown this season.

New Greytown premier rugby coach Mark Childs is itching to get his coaching career under way, but he will need to wait at least another 10 days before he can put his players through their paces.

New Zealand Rugby on Wednesday announced a three-stage approach to getting back on the grass with training potentially beginning later this month. That comes after the Government’s confirmation that community sport can resume with certain hygiene and distancing measures in place during covid-19 Alert Level 2.

NZR Head of Participation Steve Lancaster said rugby would take a measured approach introducing three distinct phases of preparation to ensure clubs were clear about the stringent health and safety protocols required to enable players, coaches and referees to lace up their boots for 2020.

“I know our rugby community is very keen to be back out on the grass, but we’re being very cautious,” he said. “We must get it right, and get it right the first time. The health and safety of our community is paramount.”

The first ‘Prepare to Train’ phase allows for clubs and unions to implement procedures around hygiene protocols for people, venues and facilities, and requirements for gatherings and contract tracing.

Childs said he will use the next couple of weeks to contact his players.

“I’m not sure how much of a toll the lockdown has had on their jobs, and some of them could be down on income, so we will contact the squad to see how they’re placed,” he said. “It’s an unknown at this stage how work could affect their rugby season.”

The second ‘Prepare to Play’ phase allows teams to begin pre-season training, including contact training. This is expected to be a four-week period from May 25 but will be confirmed by NZR after confirmation of the government’s requirements for gatherings. Pre-season matches may be played in the final week before Phase 3.

The third phase allows for fixtures to begin from June 20, provided restrictions on mass gatherings are relaxed. Provincial unions can set competition start dates to suit the needs of their own communities.

Lancaster said the phased approach would also apply to secondary school rugby, and schools were also required to work within government guidelines for the education sector.

Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union chief executive officer Tony Hargood said the union will work closely with the clubs to ensure that the correct protocols are put in place and the NZR guidelines are adhered to.

He said, “The Council of Clubs will meet in the middle of next week and discuss feedback from a couple of proposals on possible competition formats sent out to the clubs.”

One of the proposals could involve a full two-round competition with semifinals and final, a 16-week programme, which would take the club season through to early October.

Childs favoured a knockout competition followed by one full round and playoffs.

“A knockout would take three weeks and we can use that as our preseason,” he said. “Three weeks with a trophy at the end would be a good way to start.

“Then if we had one full round and semifinals and final, that’s 12 weeks and that would be ideal. Two full rounds may be too much and we don’t know how work will impact on the players yet.”

For 46-year-old Childs, the Greytown role is his first foray into coaching and he has a strong support team around him with former Wellington Lions prop Jonathan Tanner in control of the forwards and another club stalwart Tapaga Isaac the defence coach.

Childs played for Greytown from 1995 to 1998 before moving to Wellington in an attempt to break into Super Rugby. He won one championship with the club in 1995 when they pulled off an upset victory over Pioneer.

The rookie coach had assembled a promising squad when the covid-19 lockdown came in. He said the subsequent cancellation of the Heartland Rugby Championship had cost him at least one player.

“Tyler Tane, an inside back from the Hutt Valley was coming over to try and break into Heartland Rugby,” Childs said. “He looked very skilled but he probably won’t be coming now.

“We’ve also picked up Jack Beatson, a halfback/wing, an ex-Rathkeale player from Wellington, and [wing] Logan Hebenton-Prendeville has come over from Gladstone, otherwise most of last year’s
squad are back.”

Football won’t use changing sheds

Other major codes are following a similar three-phase system to get their seasons under way.

New Zealand Football and Hockey New Zealand have also announced ‘Ready to Train’, ‘Prepare to Play’, and ‘Return to Play’ systems.

However, one major difference with NZ Football is that changing facilities, and where appropriate clubrooms, remain closed with players arriving ready to train.

Wairarapa-Bush Rugby CEO Tony Hargood confirmed that rugby won’t be applying that restriction.

“The changing rooms will be available and the appropriate hygiene procedures will be followed,” he said. “It’s an important part of the day.”