Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Dropping Julian Savea tough call, says Chris Boyd

Chris Boyd celebrates the Hurricanes' first Super Rugby title with Victor Vito. Photo / Photosport
Chris Boyd celebrates the Hurricanes' first Super Rugby title with Victor Vito. Photo / Photosport

Chris Boyd agonised over the decision to leave All Black Julian Savea on the bench for all three Super Rugby playoff games, including the final.

He did so because it was in the best interests of his team and it was one of several tough calls the Hurricanes head coach had to make in leading them to a maiden championship, sealed by Saturday night's 20-3 win over the Lions.

"Emotionally, it's very tough ... I felt really uncomfortable not playing Julian," Boyd told the Herald. "He will be a great player again, I have no doubt about that, but he wasn't playing at his best over the past few weeks."

Dressed in his game-day finest of light blue V-necked jumper, dress shirt and trousers, Boyd looks like a mild-mannered school teacher, and assistant coach John Plumtree, who has coached with Boyd for many years, thought his mate might have been a bit easy on his players in the early days. But not now.

"In the past, I think he could have been a bit soft, but definitely this year, he had to make some massive calls from a selection point of view and they were all his," Plumtree said. "Obviously with Julian Savea in particular, that was a tough call to make, but he did what he thought was best for the team. In fairness to guys like Julian, they understood that, and got behind him and the rest of the boys."

Another was the decision to suspend All Blacks Julian and Ardie Savea, Cory Jane and Victor Vito, and reserve prop Chris Eves after they returned 18 minutes late from a night out in Durban a few days before their loss to the Sharks. Some outsiders thought the punishment a bit tough; the evidence suggests otherwise.

"Boydy treats his rugby teams like a family," Plumtree said. "There are no rules but you are expected to do the right thing. Those players didn't do the right thing and so there had to be a consequence, as everyone saw. That galvanised the team because those individuals at that time weren't thinking about the team. It was important that the right call was made. As tough as it was, it had to be done."

Boyd, 58, probably didn't inspire confidence among Hurricanes supporters when he took over from Mark Hammett in late 2014. He went into the job after a nightmare season with Wellington in the national provincial championship, his side winning only one of 10 matches, and it's something that still grates despite a horrendous injury toll which saw him go through five first-fives in the first six weeks and 53 players in total.

Like all professional coaches, the defeats leave a mark on Boyd that even glorious victories can't erase.

"I was very upset that I was responsible for the Lions being demoted from the Premiership to the Championship," Boyd said. "That still hurts because you always want to leave a team better than you found it."

Another significant disappointment was last year's Super Rugby final defeat against the Highlanders.

"Winning this final doesn't get rid of the demons from last year," he said.

Given that losing is inevitable in sport, it's a wonder anyone who takes defeat as hard as Boyd has remained in the game so long. The key is probably that he inevitably comes out on the right side of the ledger and has a lot of fun along the way.

Plumtree, who worked with Boyd at the Sharks for three years nearly a decade ago, said the former Tawa Rugby Club coach was the ideal partner. Plumtree confirmed he will remain with the Hurricanes for another two years at least, with Boyd also almost certain to recommit.

"We go back a long way. I know how he thinks and he knows how I think," Plumtree said. "Sometimes we think differently and that's what makes our relationship strong in terms of what we do with our rugby teams. Boydy is really relaxed and I'm probably a little bit more tense. We trust each other to do the right thing and the way Boydy runs his management team suits us as a group."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 22 Oct 2016 00:25:58 Processing Time: 535ms