By TERRY MADDAFORD
Wayne Pivac and the players he guided to victory in the NPC first division went fishing this week. It was a chance to relax and reflect.
At the helm of a team who were part of an incredible season-ending charge of away victories over Canterbury, Otago and Wellington in 15 frenetic days, 41-year-old Pivac had plenty to savour.
His achievements, defending that title and picking up the "plum," the Ranfurly Shield, at a time when the country was ga-ga with happenings on distant shores, underlined his ability to meet and beat allcomers.
After playing his early rugby at Rosmini College and then Westlake Boys High, Pivac was good enough to play for North Harbour. He recalled that their first shield challenge was an 18-6 loss to Auckland at a time he was combining his rugby with work in the police.
He slipped into coaching, moving from club duty at Takapuna, a couple of seasons with North Harbour's second XV, then Northland for a couple of seasons before joining Auckland.
While his wife and two sons stayed in Auckland, Pivac commuted to Whangarei for one of his two years with Northland, the province his father represented.
Now he is ready to move again.
While the Auckland players, after a well-deserved (but short) break contemplate another season in the so-called toughest provincial competition in world rugby, Pivac will be elsewhere.
He plays that card close to his chest, insisting "nothing has been signed," but at the same time admits he is heading overseas.
Refreshingly, there is no John Mitchell-speak when he says he hankers one day to take a shot at the top job.
"Coaches are no different than players," Pivac said. "You always want to set your sights as high as you can. I was never good enough to play for the All Blacks, but I would like to think some time I will be back in New Zealand and having a crack at coaching them."
Before that he would like to try his hand with a Super 12 franchise.
That, most feel, should be a given.
His record with Auckland over the past five seasons surely has him at the top of that list.
"I have enjoyed all we have done with Auckland. We have achieved all we set out to do for sure," Pivac said. "When I took over, Auckland had lost a dozen players. We had to rebuild. It was a challenge Grant [Fox] and I relished.
"We went back to the grass roots. While the club competition was not as intensive as it had been in the days before professional rugby, it was still important to get out and have a look. In the first season  we spotted Keven Mealamu, a former openside [flanker] playing his first season at Otahuhu as hooker.
"Other players such as Mils Muliaina, Orene Ai'i and, later, Bryce Williams, Daniel Braid, Ali Williams, Angus Macdonald, Ben Atiga, Brent Ward and Sam Tuitupou have all come through the system, although these days just as many players are first seen playing for school first XVs or at age-group or colts tournaments."
As an aside to that, Pivac points to the lack of hard, week-in, week-out, club rugby as perhaps the main reason for Auckland's tentative efforts in the first half of this season.
"There is a big difference from the tough grind of regular club play and a one-off week-long tournament," Pivac said. "A lot of our players found it tough when they had to play NPC every week. Simply, they weren't prepared for the demands of playing with that intensity. As the season went on, the more conditioned they became."
Backing up with a second NPC title was "pretty satisfying." Coupling that with the Ranfurly Shield was the icing on the cake.
"Not many coaches get to win that."
Many feel there is more to come for Pivac, the no-nonsense, quiet achiever who stood and delivered for a union with big expectations.
By TERRY MADDAFORD