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Bay rugby players leading the way

Monday, May 11, 2020
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All Blacks Sevens captain Scott Curry never imagined he would one day lead our national team. But he attributes his upbringing in the Bay as a key to his success.

Currently, three Bay of Plenty players hold or have held the title of captain in our national rugby teams. Scratch the surface a little deeper and you see Clayton McMillan is the Māori All Blacks Coach and Mike Delany is the Defensive Coach with the New Zealand Under-20 side. Not bad for a provincial union that has gone from not really being in the national space to be a key contributor.

Curry has been captain of the All Blacks Sevens since 2015. He says it was never a goal to lead the team.

“Obviously it’s a massive honour. But I didn’t think I would be a captain, it sort of just naturally happen. I always wanted to be the best player I could be, and I think Sam Cane was the same. That just naturally evolves into a leadership role, when you are a bit more experienced.”

Sam Cane is the new edition of Bay of Plenty players who has taken up the mantel of captain. Former Black Ferns Captain Les Elder rounds off the Bay of Plenty trio.

Elder, who was the first Bay of Plenty woman to be named Black Ferns captain is quick to acknowledge Cane’s elevation to All Blacks captain.

"It's an honour and a privileged responsibility when you are named to lead your national side. I have no doubt Sam will do a great job and have the backing of his teammates."

Praise from outside the region has been quick to acknowledge the achievements of both Cane and Curry’s success. Former rugby announcer Keith Quinn posted on social media recently.

“Only in New Zealand! The captain of the 2020, All Blacks Sevens Scott Curry and now the captain of the 2020, All Blacks 15s Sam Cane. Both hailed originally from tiny Reporoa in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. Reporoa’s population in the 2013, NZ Census; 453.”

In a nice twist, Curry says Quinn had presented him with his Sevens jersey when he played his first match for the team.

“Keith has his finger on the pulse. I remember in Dubai back in 2010, he presented me with my first playing jersey. So, it was quite cool to see that message.”

Curry says coming from Reporoa was an advantage for both Cane and himself.

“I guess growing up in our community our parents worked on a farm or a lifestyle block, or in Sam’s case a deer farm. You see your parents working hard and that instills in you that hard work ethic.”

The 31-year-old says he didn’t let the pressure of being captain affect his game.

“I really enjoyed it. I guess there is that added pressure that you have to perform well all the time. That you have to be one of the best players when you go out on the field. I guess, I enjoyed that challenge.

“I think it made me play better if anything. If you are going out there demanding that from all your players, you’ve got to back that up as well.”

Steamers Assistant Coach Mike Delany has had a meteoric rise in the coaching ranks. The former All Blacks first-five was still playing Super Rugby for the Crusaders in 2018.

Now, the 37-year-old is helping to develop our future rugby stars as the defensive coach in the New Zealand Under-20 squad.

“In spots throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to have some pretty good coaches along the way and I’ve always thought I would like to coach at some point. I like all the details around the game.

“Being a number 10, you used to have to come up with game plans and wanting to beat defenses. Having Ian Foster in my earlier days at the Chiefs, He really drove that detail through his coaching techniques. You had to have a pretty good understanding of the game and around techniques on how to deliver that.”

Delany says professional players' skill levels are developing a lot quicker now compared to when he began playing 15 years ago. Which is why he believes we are starting to see players advance their careers. Not only as leaders within a team but also as coaches when they retire from playing.

“You see guys like Scott Curry, the captain of the Sevens and now Sam Cane. Then you add Tanerau Latimer, who had a really big role within the Chiefs and Liam Messam as well, they are now involved in the coaching area.”

A classic example of this is former Steamers captain and now the head coach of the Steamers and Māori All Blacks, Clayton McMillan.

McMillan is in his sixth season with the Steamers, taking them to a Mitre 10 Championship finals win last year. He says there is no secret formula to the success Bay Rugby has had with players, administrators and coaches performing at a national level.

“What I do think we are doing well, is attracting and developing quality people. That, combined with hard work, talent and experience are opening the door to leadership roles at higher levels.

“I think it’s an accumulation of their life’s skills, their rugby skills and whether or not they are prepared to be a shining light in regards to modeling the values and behaviours set by the team or organisation. Those are the foundations of a good captain.

McMillan says when he got into coaching, he had no real aspiration to coach at a national level.

“I just loved the game, the comradery and being part of the contest. When I finished playing I transitioned straight into coaching which was a great way to stay involved and give back to my club who had served me so well as a player.`

“At that stage, I would never have imagined it would lead to a professional career as a coach and afford me the opportunities I have been fortunate to have had. I’m very grateful to be doing a job I love.”

Bay of Plenty Rugby Chief Executive Mike Rogers says the developments the Union has made in recent years are contributing to improving expectations and driving leadership not just in their players, but coaches, managers and staff.
“Our focus on great programs, world-class people and infrastructure have us amongst the world’s best.
“While Scott, Sam and Les may not be able to directly be attributed to these changes, I think what we are doing and having these leaders is going to be a big factor in our ongoing development of great leaders out of the Bay region.”
You only have to look across the ditch for a similar example where the national captains represent both their state and nation. Australian men and women’s one-day cricket captains Aaron Finch and Meghann Lanning both play for Victoria.

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