By Chris Rattue
The first time Wayne Pivac met Grant Fox was in a junior Roller Mills game some 25 years ago.
Pivac, a loose forward, was playing for Auckland North. Fox was in the Waikato Rangers side.
"They beat us 9-0, and Grant Fox kicked three penalties, in the wet, from the 10 metre line. He was even doing that as a 12-year-old," remembers Pivac.
It was the first of many meetings on the field. Pivac recalls another moment in a match between his Takapuna club and University, before North Harbour split from the Auckland union in 1985.
Pivac late-tackled Fox on the Varsity 22-metre line. Fox had already got his clearing kick away, landing it 60 metres downfield, and he slotted the resulting penalty.
"I played against Foxy in many club games and a couple of times when North Harbour played Auckland.
"I reckon I late-tackled him a dozen times, and just about every time I reckon he kicked the penalty."
Fox remembers Pivac as someone who "played the game very hard."
Apart from those on-field clashes and the odd chat after a match, the pair had very little to do with each other. That was until this week, when Auckland appointed Pivac as their head NPC coach and Fox as the assistant, on three-year terms.
Fox applied for the top job, while Pivac had already been contracted as Auckland's assistant coach.
Out of 26 applicants, Pivac and Fox had made it to the final four. Auckland decided on Pivac as their head man, and then chief executive Geoff Hipkins rang Fox on Sunday asking if he would take on the assistant's role.
Both men say they did not automatically accept the arrangement, and had a two-hour meeting first to decide if they were compatible.
"I didn't know Wayne personally and I didn't know anything about his coaching philosophies," says Fox.
"We talked about all sorts of issues, but it didn't take me long to know that our philosophies were very similar."
Pivac says: "We weren't going to be thrown together for obvious reasons [with the Jed Rowlands/Mac McCallion split fresh in everyone's mind]. We hit it off straight away. In the end it was down to me ... I walked out of the meeting very excited."
So it is now the Pivac and Fox show, as the once-mighty rugby province, which crashed to finish eighth in the NPC last season, tries to create a new era of glory which might also flow on to the Super 12 Blues.