Rugby: Tour trek caps year for captain

By Shane Hurndell

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Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby captain Mike Coman was hoping his former flatmate, All Black prop Owen Franks, hadn't had a memory lapse as he flew to Rome last night.

Franks promised Coman some tickets to the All Blacks' United Kingdom tour games shortly after the ABs team was named last month. Coman will attend Sunday's test in Rome, the November 25 test against Wales in Cardiff and the December 2 test against England in London as well as visit his former Canterbury club in London before returning to the Bay on December 4 to prepare for pre-season training with the Hurricanes.

"I hear the game at Stadio Olimpico in Rome is a sellout with 70,000 fans expected. Hopefully Owen has got everything in order as far as my seat is concerned," Coman said before boarding the flight.

There was some temporary relief to Coman's anxiety when I informed him he had won the Magpies Supporters Club Magpies player-of-the-year award which was one of four handed out at a Magpies sponsors function hosted by the East Pier in Napier last night.

"The award is an honour and obviously it would have been better if we had a better season," Coman said referring to the fact the Magpies were relegated from the ITM Cup premiership to the championship for next season.

"You're right ... it's an ideal form of consolation for missing out on a Hurricanes Super Rugby contract last month which I was pretty disappointed about," the No8 said.

"I thought I had put myself in a good position and it was frustrating to see a couple of younger guys get selected ahead of me. I understand some of those younger players had lots of offers from other franchises and the Canes wanted to tie them down," Coman explained.

A member of the Hurricanes wider training group for the past two seasons, Coman, pointed out his third season in the group will be different. He will train full time with the Canes and be on call at all times.

"I could get called in off merit. I don't have to wait for injuries and I'm picking with some of the younger loosies not big fellahs they may struggle with the physicality which means there is likely to be more opportunities for game time than I've had in the past," Coman added.

Another Magpie who is already in the United Kingdom, New Zealand Maori flanker Karl Lowe, won the best forward award and first five-eighth Dan Waenga the best back. Prop Adrian Barone won the best team person award.

When announcing the award winners Magpies manager and former halfback Neil Weber promised a bigger and better year next season.

Magpies hooker Ash Dixon spoke on behalf of the players at the function. He apologised for the team's results.

"We're gutted about the results ... stick around we're going to change it," he said.

Union president and Magpies legend, former All Black Blair Furlong, was full of praise for the sponsors and crowd support during the season which saw 8000 or more fans at each home game. Furlong said the loss to Manawatu in miserable conditions at Palmerston North was the turning point in the side's season.

"That was the pits."

Furlong said he had heard the criticism aimed at Magpies coaches Craig Philpott and Danny Lee ,who were both absent last night because of an ITM Cup coaches meeting in Wellington.

"Our coaches learnt a lot. They've got to get harder so to the players ... look out," Furlong warned.

Magpies ITM Cup crossover games for next season were confirmed yesterday. The Magpies will host championship winners Counties-Manukau and Hurricanes big brothers Wellington and have away games against Taranaki and Bay of Plenty.

Four Hawke's Bay under-20 representatives have been selected for New Zealand under-20 trial camps beginning on Sunday.

They are the Napier Technical quartet of No8 Levi Guildford, winger Penikolo Latu who also played for the Magpies this year, halfback Sheridan Rangihuna and fullback Tamati Samuels.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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