The Taniwha may have just experienced one of the worst seasons of any side in the history of provincial rugby in New Zealand.

However, former North Auckland lock and All Black great Ian Jones feels a notable exclusion from Northland's fight was apparent as they traipsed through the 2015 ITM Cup Championship.

"For a few years, we've done exceptionally well but, without having a few older players to help along the way, you lose experience. You lose some of the guys who have been there for a few seasons and, hell, it makes it really tough and I guess that was where Northland was at this year," Jones said.

"One man like a Rene Ranger type of thing's the difference ... his penetration, his getting over the gain line, him giving the forwards some target to work on makes a huge difference, and that's just one guy we're talking about you know?"


Standing on the sideline for the bulk of Northland's home games this year, Jones was privy to the on-field presence the Taniwha embodied.

Noting a lack of intensity, coupled with a mix of inexperience when it mattered most, Jones added that the minute number of Super Rugby level players in the Northland frontline hindered the team's ability to go forward.

"Understanding the intensity to train at and to prepare for and play with, and to repeat doing that for 10 weeks in a row, is a real challenge for a union like Northland," he said.

"The ability to be able to concentrate and play footy for 80 minutes is a learning and a lot of those Super Rugby guys are learning it and coming down, playing really good ITM.

"You can sense the effort was there. It's a bloody hard competition for these guys who are going from club rugby up to ITM where they're playing against a lot of guys who are going form Super Rugby down into ITM.

"[With] Dan Hawkins getting a Super Rugby contract [and] Kara Pryor, Dan Pryor... those guys are really important to retain and to bring the information back ... "

Looking to 2016, Jones believes opposition sides will be wary of a Northland retaliation.

"It's a hard ask, but Northland have been in a pretty good way the last few years. You've got to remember those times as well and trust that with a few more years' experience, and another year under the belt for the new coach, they can get back to those committed games that we saw from them the last couple of years."