Rugby: Fan texts timely fuel for Magpies

By Anendra Singh

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Magpie coaches Craig Philpott (front) and Danny Lee.
Magpie coaches Craig Philpott (front) and Danny Lee.

Anytime teams find themselves in the business end of a competition it is understandable, if not acceptable, they will have to come to terms with a bout of jangled nerves pretty smartly.

That brought to heel in relatively quick time, the match-savvy sides tend to draw on a different kind of energy emanating from that transitional state of calmness.

If they start doing that on the road with a modicum of consistency then it's fair to say they are ready to engage in any battle, no matter how insurmountable the odds may appear to be.

Those who have faithfully followed the campaign of the Hawke's Bay Magpies this winter will perhaps relate to a team that has evolved into a stronger unit.

Okay it's a given the Tasman Makos will assume the mantle of favourites when they host the Mike Coman-skippered Magpies in the ITM Cup Championship final in a 7.35pm kick off in Nelson, on Friday.

But coach Kieran Keane and his assistant, Leon MacDonald, and their disciples know better than run on to Trafalgar Park assuming the visitors will roll over to let them tickle their tummies simply because they triumphed on September 22 to the tune of 18-9 on a blustery Sunday.

Magpies coach Craig Philpott knows what former Magpies coach Keane and ex-All Black MacDonald can conjure up, especially with the latter, a former Crusader, instilling in their troops a gritty Canterbury-style of mental fortitude.

"The Tasman like to play an attractive and winning style of rugby especially with Leon's involvement with Super Rugby and the All Blacks," he says.

A Cantabrian himself, Philpott is under no illusions of the hard-nose influence his coaching counterparts have on the Tasman collective.

"They were both very, very clever rugby players."

All right, enough on the opposition.

What will it take for the Magpies to reverse their fortunes in the last-chance saloon if either side is to gain promotion to the Premiership next season?

No doubt ascendancy to the top tier of the national provincial championship - the premier level of rugby in the country's No 1 sport - will bring its own rewards.

Those fans yearning for warm fuzzies over the big boys - the Magpies have shown they can when they stunned the Wellington Lions 35-24 at McLean Park, Napier, on October 10 - will start pushing through the turnstiles for their weekly winter fix.

Needless to say, the very constitution of the Premiership has the propensity to destroy a team's soul by its very presence no matter how much coaches talk up the intensity and parity the Championship may have a tier below.

A cursory glance at the Premiership inhabitants reveals a top-heavy and bottom-heavy presence through the spine of North and South Islands with the likes of Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Canterbury.

"Where's the spread?" one may well ask.

How about the presence of middle earth, as it were?

The imminent victory of either the Magpies or the Makos will be the uprising of the minnow unions but the former's promotion will go a step further in accentuating that spread to the peripheral region of grassroots rugby.

Philpott laughs but accommodates the thought, albeit briefly, accepting it will be a nice way to end the season.

For now the focus is to simply treat the Championship final as just another encounter by simply doing the basics against an opposition, he believes, plays in a pretty similar vein to the Magpies.

Philpott said the September clash in Nelson had to be put in perspective owing to the inclement weather although he hastened to add the forecast wasn't too flash for Friday night and amid predictions of rain would making it "very interesting".

Having won the toss the last time, Tasman opted to play into the wind, something he felt Coman would have done, too.

"It gives the players about 10 to 15 minutes to settle into the game," he explained, after the Magpies struggled to come to grips with the cross wind at Trafalgar Park.

That is not to say Philpott believes a toss of the coin will reverse the Bay's fortunes this Friday.

Neither will any talk of hanging out for All Black fullback Israel Dagg. That, he assures, won't happen although New Zealand Rugby Union may release prop Ben Franks before the trip to Japan shortly.

In fact, finding any pre-match excuses for the fear of a negative result isn't his style.

Primarily he expects his troops to put up their hand, whatever the conditions or odds, to get the job done.

Sure, the turbulent travelling arrangements to Dunedin for the awe-inspiring 29-24 semifinal win on Sunday and the five-day turnaround to the final add to the demands but for Philpott, in sporting parlance, it is what it is.

They did make it in time to Dunedin to watch Tasman grind down Southland 49-28 in the other semifinal so the Bay stable is much wiser for it.

The good news is Coman's knee injury is not a structural one but "soft-tissue bruising" although the jury is out on whether he'll start. That decision rests with the physio right up to game day.

The NZRU's come to the party, chartering a 1.5-hour flight from Napier to Nelson on Thursday morning so there is rugby god after all.

For what has been a fabulous season considering the Magpies also lifted the Ranfurly Shield, Philpott urged fans to keep sending texts to fuel them for Friday or travel to Nelson to support them to win promotion.

"They can catch up with us after the game and have a few beers," he says with Karl Lowe playing his 100th cup game and Coman on his swansong before jetting off to Edinburgh to further his playing career.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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