International rugby players are coming to the Bay of Plenty to experience a world class rugby performance environment while also boosting local clubs and the game overall in the region.
The Bay of Plenty Rugby Union is reaching rugby players from overseas as part of their international rugby programme, with the aim to benefit the game in the region. This season, a handful of international players are, or have been, in the Bay making most of the opportunity.
One of those players was 27-year-old American Santia Deck, who spent three weeks in the Bay of Plenty improving her rugby skills.
Deck, a track and field athlete who had played some American football, says she gained a lot but the beautiful scenery and kind people were highlights.
"I got to meet some of the Black Ferns and I learned new training techniques and how to pass and tackle better," Deck says.
Japan's Eishin Kuwano was part of the Tauranga Sports team, playing in the Baywide premier division since the club's first pre-season game. Coach Culum Retallick says having the sizeable lock on their squad was a boost to the squad.
Kuwano played his final game for Tauranga on June 1, a 20-12 win over rivals Mount Maunganui, and is now back in Japan where he plays for Japanese club side Yamaha, who play in the Japan Top League.
"He has been really good for us," Retallick says.
"It is a struggle to find big guys in club rugby and he has been awesome. He has brought a different style to what we commonly get. He was really disciplined, you give him a task and he doesn't ask too many questions."
Kuwano stayed with Retallick and his family during his time in the Bay of Plenty and Retallick says having international players helps, as clubs struggle for numbers.
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union chief executive Mike Rogers says the union delivers a package for visiting players and the user-pays income generated is then invested in the game locally.
"We are delivering the whole rugby experience in terms of what that individual wants. We deliver a world class rugby performance environment and then link with our local community for education as well as cultural experience - it is not just about rugby," Rogers says.
"We have been working on international activity for the last two to three years. With the growth of the game and around the Olympics and sevens and more around the women's games, there are so many new countries getting involved in rugby.
"To be able to grow the income to reinvest in our community we need to look outside our own country."
Rogers says they are looking at ways to utilise the location and facilities the Bay has to offer while also making the most of existing relationships. The Yamaha club is one of the prime examples, with former Steamers coach and All Black Kevin Schuler having played and coached at the Japanese club.
"We have some existing relationships we can work off and they appreciate the environment we have created. There are also a whole lot of new opportunities and we have to try and develop a few new relationships."