Combined team bodes well for the future

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Two Central Otago rugby clubs are considering amalgamating to find a solution to dwindling player numbers in rural communities. Adam Burns looks at a junior success story that could be adopted at a senior level.

A combined junior rugby team in Central Otago has taken charge and is now reaping the rewards.
‘ Already the boys leaving this team now, they’re talking about playing for their high
school next year . . .they’re excited ,
grade team — made up of intermediate school pupils from Clyde-Earnscleugh and Matakanui rugby clubs — has reigned supreme in its third season as a joint outfit by winning all 13 games.
Earlier this month the joint club side won the Central Otago open grade competition, for year 7-8 pupils, beating Upper Clutha in the final — the only game they were kept under 50 points across the season.
The team also capped its dominant season off last week by putting a touring club side from New South Wales to the sword, beating the Mosman Barracudas 56-17 in Clyde.
Coach Nathan Love said the ‘‘stars aligned’’ this season.
‘‘This is really the premier team for both clubs by default.
‘‘What they have achieved is pretty outstanding.’’
Now the approach of amalgamating clubs is being explored at a senior level, given the struggles faced by some country teams.
The Clyde-Earnscleugh premier side withdrew from the Central Otago club competition at the start of this season due to a lack of players.
Matakanui followed suit three rounds into the premier competition, after defaulting its first two games.
Mr Love said a combined team could be a potential option at senior levels.
‘‘I think they’re [looking at it].
‘‘It’s looking promising, like a senior 10-a-side [team], not a premier team.
‘‘I think that arrangement would suit clubs like Clyde, Roxburgh and Matakanui.’’
Mr Love, of the Clyde-Earnscleugh club, has coached the side since its inception at under-11 level, alongside Matakanui’s Glen Harrex and Willie Lake.
The Combined Colours have also fielded teams at under 8-10 levels, as the clubs have come together to ensure youngsters had a team to play in.
As rugby administrators across the country tackle the downturn of playing numbers at the grassroots, Mr Love said the results for his team had reinvigorated their excitement of the game.
‘‘I think success breeds success.
‘‘Already the boys leaving this team now, they’re talking about playing for their high school next year — whether it be Otago Boy’s or Dunstan. They’re excited.’’