Rugby: How do you snap a 50 game losing streak?

By Doug Laing -
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Tamatea rugby coach Adam McDonald ticks off who is and who isn't available for the Hastings-based club's Nash Cup match against Havelock North. PHOTO/Warren Buckland
Tamatea rugby coach Adam McDonald ticks off who is and who isn't available for the Hastings-based club's Nash Cup match against Havelock North. PHOTO/Warren Buckland

Veteran rugby coach Adam McDonald loves a challenge and he certainly has one today as Hawke's Bay first-round Nash Cup tailenders Tamatea try to end possibly the longest losing streak in top-level Hawke's Bay club rugby against one of the toughest clubs around.

Tamatea have now lost 50 Premier games in a row, the only redemption in almost three years since a Queen's Birthday weekend 46-17 drubbing of Taradale in 2013 being two promotion-relegation wins which preserved their place in the top grade.

With an average scoreline of about 10 points for and 70 against in six matches since 2015 assistant McDonald took over the reins for the start of this season, he concedes it is difficult seeing the duck broken today at Bill Mathewson Park.

It's there that Tamatea host Havelock North, who, as a couple of examples of durability, have been in 18 Maddison Trophy championship finals since the Hawke's Bay-wide competition was introduced in 1988, and have been semifinalists 21 years in a row.

McDonald recognises that despite dwelling in the bottom half of the Nash Cup, partly as a consequence of losing points as a result of a player registration breach at the end of last season, Havelock North are on the up and won't be extending any mercies this weekend, even if Tamatea are practically limping on one crutch.

The problem started with a shortage of players, particularly the lanky lineout forwards and the front-row beefies which once hung around the club in abundance. Former policeman McDonald, now 63 and with 25 years as a coach in New Zealand, Canada, Portugal and Kazakhstan, tried to lure a few, who all had a view. "Tamatea, are you kidding?" they said.

Then there are those who are keen, but shift work, common in the club's catchment, means regular participation in Tuesday-Thursday training sessions is for many of them not in the equation. McDonald said it surprised him that there were so many in Hawke's Bay club rugby who did not see themselves making the professional levels just another step up the ladder. Unable to be committed 100 per cent, he said, some treated Premier club rugby as "little more than a social interlude".

And then there's today. More players are away - captain Henare Harris and lock Logan Beaton among them - and a full-squad training on Thursday night struggled without a full forward pack.

Thus, said McDonald, Tamatea's game plan at times hinged on "youthful exuberance", but as a certain Auckland-based rugby league side showed last week, having the back to the wall is not as bad a place as it's cracked up to be.

Just two weeks ago, Tamatea were 15-0 up at halftime against then-unbeaten Napier Old Boys Marist, a case, McDonald said, of having "self-belief". Alas, NOBM had self-belief, too, and scored 38 points in the second half.

"I don't know what the answer is,"said a nevertheless motivated and determined McDonald, emphasising most clubs struggled for numbers and the rugby unions should be doing something about it. But he emphasised also, he still had players with the potential to go a lot further, and would look for that potential today.

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