Rugby: Shh ... it's spuds and hard yaka

By Anendra Singh, APNZ

As bolters go, it doesn't get any flasher than the grand entrance of Rhys Marshall after the Chiefs rounded him up for their 2013 Super Rugby campaign.

If anything, the selection of the New Zealand Under-20 player is a confirmation players don't have to be in the major centres to be in the radar of elite coaches around the the country.

The Baby Blacks hooker, who captains the Hawke's Bay Under-20 team who won the Hurricanes championship this year, is a final-year agricultural finishing student at the Smedley Station in Tikokino in Central Hawke's Bay.

In making the Chiefs' cut, Marshall, of Taranaki, joins distinguished players from the province such as former Magpies and Highlanders prop Clint Newland, All Black/Crusaders/Melbourne Rebels prop Greg Somerville and Rob Evans.

At the station's 612ha satellite block perched on the foothills of the Ruahine Range with 21 other farm cadets for the past week, station manager Terry Walters said last night Central Hawke's Bay Rugby and Sports Club premier player Marshall would leave early today for Hamilton to sign his contract with the Chiefs.

"They go to the station on horseback and it takes an hour to ride there," Walters said, adding that's why he wasn't responding to messages left on his cellphone because the reception there was poor.

Asked if there was something in the station's drinking water system or its hostel menu that was instrumental in spawning quality front rowers, he laughed saying: "We give them good old-fashioned meat, spud and veges, mate. On top of the three square meals a day we also give them good, hard station work," Walters said, adding the 22 cadets had shorn 9000 breeding ewes in winter.

"The good old-fashioned All Blacks used to do and we're made of that, too, so we're no different.

"That's what makes them all good people."

Walters, who has been farm manager for 17 years, said he had seen Newland, Somerville and Evans, who is Marshall's forward coach at Central, go through the station.

"Rhys is one of 21 fine, young men who love horses, sheep and dogs, and have no problems about getting their hands dirty, so they are all great attributes."

While all cadets were treated equally, he said Marshall exuded qualities of becoming a fine leader.

The people at the station had learned of Marshall's selection at the start of the week and while they were all proud and happy for him "everyone just went to work the next day".

When selected for the Baby Blacks, who lost in the final to South Africa in June this year, Marshall regarded himself as Taranaki's sole representative in the national team as well as a Bay rep.

The former New Plymouth Boys' High School 1st XV captain represented Taranaki through the age groups up to Under-18 level before coming to the Bay last year. He also played for the Bay championship-winning Onga-Tiko Colts team last year.

The youngster, who is the son of former Taranaki loosie Ian Marshall, made the world title-winning New Zealand Under-19 side in 2009 but hasn't played for the Magpies, where former All Black Hika Elliot has the first dibs on the No1 hooker's jersey.

Walters said Marshall, who graduates from Smedley Station on December 13, intends to obtain an agricultural degree extramurally through Massey University while playing rugby.

"It tells me that he's committed to agriculture and rugby, so he'll have a life after rugby when his playing days are over."

Todd Blackadder has admitted the pressure of attempting to win a title at the Crusaders affected his decision-making last season and he is vowing not to fall into the same trap again.

Blackadder is in the final season of his contract at the Crusaders and knows the weight of expectation from his employers and rugby public within the franchise will ratchet up several notches. Despite a side stacked with All Blacks, he has yet to win a title in his four years in the job and realises this could be his final chance.

The Crusaders last won a title, their seventh, in 2008, the final year of Robbie Deans' reign.

"You are under pressure but you have to enjoy it along the way, otherwise it affects your decision-making, the players and the people who work with you," Blackadder said.

"It can't all be about the one outcome - winning a title - it has to be about enjoying the journey, otherwise it's no fun at all. That was definitely a mistake I made this year."

Blackadder has lost captain Richie McCaw to a sabbatical and prop Ben Franks to the Hurricanes but still has a forward pack more than capable of holding its own and a backline featuring Dan Carter and Israel Dagg which is better than most.

He realises the key to success, after a series of play-off failures, is unlocking the talent of those two star backs. That is why he is eager to get an attack coach on board.

Daryl Gibson performed the role for the past four years but resigned after being essentially demoted to a defence role. There were questions about whether Blackadder might go back to one backline assistant to cover attack and defence but he confirmed yesterday it would remain split and two people appointed.

The deadline for applications is Sunday and Blackadder hopes to announce his new appointments by the end of next week.

With most signings signalled in advance, there were few surprises in yesterday's New Zealand franchise squad announcements.

Lock Ross Filipo, a former Hurricane and All Black who returned to Wellington after a stint overseas, has signed with the defending champion Chiefs in what is perhaps the biggest surprise.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph will be satisfied with how his squad looks. He has added Tony Woodcock, Ma'a Nonu and Brad Thorn to a formidable line-up, although he will be disappointed All Blacks loose forward Adam Thomson has decided to have a break from rugby during the Super season.

Blues coach Sir John Kirwan is putting his faith in youth - although in reality he doesn't have much choice.

Having lost Woodcock, Nonu and prop Pauliasi Manu, Kirwan has to start from scratch but his enthusiasm at yesterday's announcement won him a few new admirers among the franchise's supporters.

Kirwan has the most inexperienced side in New Zealand, with 16 new players, 11 of whom are new to Super Rugby.

As expected, flanker Daniel Braid missed out on a contract and will now look overseas.

Another high-profile player to miss out was Counties wing and New Zealand sevens player Sherwin Stowers.

Each franchise will name another five players in wider training squads late this month.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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