When a sports season begins, pre-season match-ups can bring a lot of benefits for a team. It allows players to show their abilities and hunger for a place in a team. It also helps coaches piece together combinations, to see what their side is capable of in a playing situation and also identify strengths and weaknesses ahead of their competition campaign. Without it, teams have to find their feet in action. The Bay of Plenty Volcanix are in pre-season mode now, gearing up for their Farah Palmer Cup campaign, and their coach Rodney Gibbs says the ladies are showing plenty of positives.
With the start of the Farah Palmer Cup season rapidly approaching the coach of the Bay of Plenty side expects to see combinations gaining momentum in their next pre-season clash.
The Volcanix were just beaten 28-27 by Counties Manukau in a pre-season hit out at Blake Park on Saturday. Gibbs says score lines are not vital in pre-season fixtures and he is happy with what he saw against Counties, who were runners-up in the Farah Palmer Cup premiership last year.
"If your intention is to go out and it is all about the score you must be pretty far down the track in terms of preparation. We wanted to get everyone a run. It is more around having a decent-sized squad and we wanted to give them an opportunity to put their hands up for final squad selection. We are in a little bit of a holding pattern until the Black Ferns players come back as well," Gibbs said.
Four Bay players, including Black Ferns captain Les Elder, Luka Connor, Renee Wickliffe and Karli Faneva, are still on Black Ferns duty with their series against Australia concluding this Saturday. Gibbs will name his final squad for the Farah Palmer Cup in the coming weeks, ahead of their first match of competition on August 31 against Counties.
In the meantime, some players will take the final pre-season game against Hawke's Bay in Taupō on Saturday as a final shot at selection.
"We have a number of young girls in the programme and it is a great opportunity for them to gain some experience. The girls brought intent [against Counties] and they were excited to get out there.
"We don't expect them to be perfect, but we want to see the ladies that have some real intent in the way they play. Learning from what the team has done in previous years, we know that in our set piece we have some work to do, but generally we saw positive things out there. It was great to see it in a game in situation."
Gibbs expects his combinations to start to gain momentum in Taupō this weekend.
"We need to start heading into a direction towards our first game. There is a little bit of anxiety for everyone. Some of them are not potentially used to a full selection process and that has created some tension – that is a good thing.
"It is a bit of both in terms of fitting a game plan to players and fitting players to game plan. There will be some things that will dictate a couple of selections, but we are moulding the game to the players we have.
"Pre-season needs to be well planned and delivery of information is critical in a coaching environment. You get a feel when they want more information."
One of the senior players in the team, Kendra Reynolds, is also impressed with what she is seeing in pre-season.
"As a player I am so confident in the whole team and it will be really hard to make the 22 each week. If you have depth like that in the squad, that is the thing that will get you through the season," Reynolds, who is the Bay of Plenty Rugby Union's women's rugby development officer, says.
"There are girls that are hungry as they are fighting for their spot in the team. For us that are a bit more experienced it is about keeping it level-headed and guiding the team around the paddock.
"It was really great for the whole squad to be given the opportunity to play. A lot haven't played with the rest of the team, so it is good to find those new connections and see who works well together."
Reynolds played for Rangiuru in the Bay of Plenty women's competition this year, who claimed the title after finishing runners-up in 2018.
"There were some big hits and the Counties girls are very physical. The cool thing is we haven't had that much of a break since the club season so we are conditioned to it. The Bay club competition is pretty physical too."
Women's pre-season game:
Bay of Plenty Volcanix v Hawke's Bay.
Saturday, August 17, kick-off at 1pm.
Owen Delany Park, Taupō.
Bay of Plenty Volcanix Farah Palmer Cup fixtures:
Week 1 vs Counties Manukau at Tauranga Domain, Tauranga - August 31, 2.30pm.
Week 2 vs Wellington at Jerry Collins Stadium, Porirua - September 7, 1pm.
Week 3 vs Auckland at Rugby Park, Whakatane - September 14, 2.30pm.
Week 4 vs Waikato at FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton - September 21, 12.35pm.
Week 5 Bye.
Week 6 vs Manawatu at Tauranga Domain, Tauranga - October 5, 12.35pm.
Week 7 vs Canterbury at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch - October 13, 2.05pm