IT is hard not to be star-struck in the company of All Blacks aces like Dane Coles, TJ Perenara and Ardie Savea — some of the best rugby players in the world.
But Zimbabwe’s rugby coach Brendan Dawson and his national team manager Jason Maritz have been left in awe of the humility of these global icons of the sport.
The Zimbabwean pair has been in New Zealand on a two-week attachment with Super Rugby franchise Hurricanes, gaining technical knowledge to take back home as their country — the first from Africa to feature in rugby’s World Cup back in 1987 — continues to take steps to revive a sport that has failed to match its early promise.
“We had good chats with them all,” Maritz told IndependentSport from Wellington this week. “They are all very down-to-earth and humble guys that just love rugby.”
For the greatest rugby nation in the world, an outsider coming to New Zealand would expect some kind of operational razzmatazz surrounding one of the country’s elite teams in a sport it had ruthlessly dominated until the last World Cup, something perhaps equivalent to what you will see at Manchester United, or Los Angeles Lakers, for example.
But Maritz speaks of a reclusive and modest environment at 2016 Super Rugby champions Hurricanes—quite the hallmark of what New Zealand is as a people and as a sporting nation.
“What Dawsie and I n
oticed is how the Hurricanes set-up is very simple,” he said. “It’s very straightforward, no special equipment, no fancy change rooms, a very humble kind of environment. But as soon as the players and coaches walk onto the (training) field, the field is treated with respect. The players’ execution of skills, and the interpretation of the coaches’ instructions, was unbelievably good.
You know, the execution of meetings and bringing information from meetings to the field, and putting it into action, was incredible to watch. The skills-set and the hunger of players to wear the Hurricanes jersey, to represent their province and to play in Super Rugby, was incredible to see. That’s something we noticed. The perception is that New Zealand rugby has everything, the best of best, top of top, but they really don’t. But then they maximise everything to have 120%, which was very cool to see.”
The youthful Sables manager said many great lessons have been learnt on the trip, adding that some of Zimbabwe’s best players could soon spend time with Wellington Lions, the Hurricanes’ feeder side that plays in the Mitre 10 Cup, the premier domestic competition of New Zealand rugby.
“The Hurricanes have been very open, from their senior management all the way down to players,” Maritz said. “They have been accessible. They have been open to sharing ideas, strategies, culture, as well as obviously information around patterns and game plans. It’s been awesome to be on the inside as the week progresses to the Chiefs game (this morning).
It’s amazing to see how a Super Rugby team operates and goes about their business. The good news chatting to coach Dawsie is that he is very comfortable that his patterns and ideas of rugby are very much in line with the Hurricanes, which is a great confidence booster. It shows that we are moving in the right direction. I think the only thing we lack as Zimbabwe is technology, which is something we are looking at.
The technology and resources they (Hurricanes) have is second to none, which enables them to make right decisions around player management and opposition tactics. We managed to sit down with line-out coaches, scrum coaches, and the head coach. We have had lunches with the general manager of Hurricanes, Ben Castle. I have great news with regards to that: we have formed a relationship with him, where we can potentially send players to Wellington Lions. They will be happy to consider looking after one or two of our players and give them an opportunity in New Zealand. This is tremendous news for Zimbabwean rugby. So we are very grateful to the Hurricanes for welcoming us with open arms. There is great stuff coming out of it.”