The Bay of Plenty Steamers have had a successful start to the Mitre 10 Cup Season, winning their first two games against Taranaki and Counties Manukau. The Bay of Plenty Times finds out more about the man behind the team, head coach Clayton McMillan

About Clayton McMillan

He's the son of an Australian mother and a Māori father from Matakana Island, now living in Perth. He was born in Perth but raised in Rotorua, educated at Rotorua Boys' High School and worked as a policeman in Rotorua.

Among his many sporting accomplishments he's played rugby internationally in Japan, is a Bay of Plenty centurion and a highly regarded rugby coach.

Now living in Papamoa, he is the head coach of the Bay of Plenty Steamers, a father to a 9-year-old boy called Ari and 7-year-old girl, Peata, and partner to Nataalia Stevenson.

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Who has been your biggest inspiration in life and why?

My biggest inspiration would actually be my aunty, Marlene.

My mother passed away when I was six months old from cancer and I've literally been raised by my aunty, who is effectively my mother so she's the matriarch of our family. She's had my back since day one so anything I can do that makes her proud is worthwhile doing. When my mother passed away, my father and I moved back to New Zealand from Perth when I was about 3 years old. He'd lived in Australia for a number of years so the natural progression was to move in with his sister [Aunty Marlene] and my uncle, and that became life. He moved on and remarried, and I elected to stay where I was.

How long have you been involved with rugby, first as a player, and why did you make the transition from player to coach?

I've been involved in rugby my whole life. It's kind of part of the fabric of my family really, we've all been involved in the sport and heavily involved with our club in Rotorua, which is Whakarewarewa. It almost wasn't necessarily a choice, but it's part of who we are.

My transition into coaching, it was something that always interested me even as a player operating under a number of different coaches who all brought different strengths and a different perspective to the game.

Initially for me it was about giving back to the my club that had served me so well as a player.

Which team has been your favourite to play for?

I have fond memories of all the teams I have played for but if I have to single one out I'd probably go all the way back to 1st XV days at Rotorua Boys' High School. We had a particularly successful team but it's also one of the one times in life where you get to play with all of your mates, your mates you grew up with, and there's a bond that's hard to replicate, in a team sense, as you move forward in life.

Who has been your favourite teammate?

Somebody who was always a rival from another club but a great mate in the Bay was Paul Tupai.

He was a Bay of Plenty centurion and went on to the Chiefs and did amazing things up in the UK, and I believe he only retired a couple of months ago at the ripe old age of 44 — and that sort of personifies that man — total resilience and he just loves the game.

He went to Western Heights High School so that's probably where the rivalry began. He ended up playing for Ngongotaha in Rotorua and Rangiuru, over here he played for a couple of clubs. We were good friends and also battling for the same position, so there was always a healthy rivalry.

Which of your own rugby coaches have you gained the most from and why?

I reckon there's something to be learnt from every coach, and one of the arts of becoming a coach is being able to take the good parts of all the coaches that you've been influenced by, and perhaps filter some of the stuff that perhaps doesn't align with your philosophy, and that's how you become who you are as a coach.

I've been very fortunate to have been to be coached by some of the best in the business.

What was the first team you coached and what did you learn from that experience?

I had some involvement as a player coach in Japan but my first foray into coaching was with Whakarewarewa Prems, I think that was back in 2007.

We won every game by quite a considerable margin throughout the whole season but then lost the final, so what I learnt from that is nothing is ever guaranteed.

What prompted you to take up the Steamers coaching role?

I was living in Wellington and the job became available. It was a good time for me to move back to the Bay of Plenty — I'm passionate about Bay of Plenty rugby and I wanted to contribute and make a difference.

The Steamers had an amazing season opener, how do you maintain consistency and feel about your chances this season?

Consistency is about staying humble and grounded, never getting too far ahead of ourselves. We have to appear for every game. In regards to prospects, we've obviously started well but it's a tough competition and things can change very quickly.

Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan looks on ahead of the round one Mitre 10 Cup match between Bay of Plenty and Taranaki at Rotorua International Stadium on August 18. Photo / Getty Images
Steamers head coach Clayton McMillan looks on ahead of the round one Mitre 10 Cup match between Bay of Plenty and Taranaki at Rotorua International Stadium on August 18. Photo / Getty Images

What has been your career highlight as a coach?

I've had lots of highlights but being appointed the Maori All Blacks coach, and getting a victory over Canada in the first game, was a proud moment for myself and my family.

What has been your career highlight as a player?

Now that I reflect it's not really about the championships but more about the friendships that were made. Life-long friendships, the opportunities that have been afforded to me off the back of rugby.

It's a fantastic vehicle to get people around the world.

What has been the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you on the field?

Fortunately for me there haven't been too many but my biggest disappointment is the Bay of Plenty Ranfurly Shield game against Auckland in 1996. I was captain. We were winning by a significant margin and lost in the last six minutes.

That was a huge disappointment, one that lives with me, and the history of Bay of Plenty rugby, to this day.

*In that game the Bay led 29-11 with about eight minutes to go, ultimately losing 30-29.

How do you deal with stress?

I think you have multiple avenues to de-stress. I love what I'm doing so that certainly makes life easier. We share the load, I have a great coaching team and great support.

Personally, we always talk and talk through issues. With my family and friends we keep it real ... I'm kept pretty grounded and have a strong support base.

You've also worked as a police officer, what made you pursue a career with the police?

Through school, everything was gravitating towards joining the police.

There isn't really a highlight because you are often dealing with tragedy and victims, but I like to think that there were victims who were struggling, and in my presence and work, was able to help those people.

Suicide is one of the hardest to deal with in the police and for families, it's just tragic. They're never nice to attend and the more publicity that mental health and depression gets the better so we can prevent unnecessary deaths in this country.

What similarities are there between a police officer and a coach?

There are a huge amount. Being able to build strong relationships is at the forefront of being a good coach, and being a good police officer.

What was your very first job and what other jobs have you had in your lifetime?

I've done labouring jobs, worked in a sawmill. I did all of those jobs. I worked in the district court in Rotorua for about three or four years, which prompted my motivation to get into the police force when I was in my 20s. Apart from those labouring jobs the only jobs I've done has been as a policeman or coach.

Maori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan speaks to the media during the Maori All Blacks Tour Squad Announcement. Photo / Getty Images
Maori All Blacks head coach Clayton McMillan speaks to the media during the Maori All Blacks Tour Squad Announcement. Photo / Getty Images

What do you think the biggest differences are between growing up in the time you did and the world your own children are growing up in?

It's a completely different world. Social media and technology has transformed the way we live. Things are very PC, kids aren't allowed to climb trees ... but it amazes me how brilliant kids are with technology. We can't prevent them from making progress in that area.

What is something you would tell your 16-year-old self?

Don't take yourself too seriously. I've always been pretty driven, when I put my mind to something I'm full throttle.

When you're not working with the Steamers, what are you doing?

If I'm being 100 per cent, I'm probably working. It's pretty relentless in this job but it doesn't feel like working.

But I like going to the beach, like to get some exercise, I love having friends and family around eating good food.

Having been involved in kapa haka, is this important to you and why? What has been your biggest kapa haka achievement?

It really is, I haven't been on the stage for a few years. It's something that I thoroughly enjoy. I'm proud to be Māori and being involved in kapa haka is a public display of that pride.

There are a lot of similarities between kapa haka and rugby, you have to make a lot of sacrifices, it takes a lot of time and energy and a lot of teamwork, and in the end it all comes down to your performance on the day.

I've performed on the Matatini stage five times (with Te Arawa kapa haka groups Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao and Manaia) and getting there is an achievement in itself.

Kapa haka is something that I really enjoyed and again, it's about the people you meet. There's certainly a cross section of people, grandparents and parents, school children who are fluent in Māori or just getting into it but you're coming together for a common purpose.

What has been your biggest personal achievement and why?

Being a parent is the obvious one. There is no greater gift than being a parent and it's why we do what we do, it's to create a future for them that is hopefully more fruitful than your own.

How do you think your closest friends would describe you?

We have a tight bunch of friends and we generally show our love for each other by [making fun of each other].

But I guess it would be ... I'm a bit complex, hard to know until you scratch through the surface to see the person underneath and after that, someone who is loyal, generous and driven.