Buller Heartland coaches Craig Scanlon and Craig Neill were recently awarded the Premier Sportsmen Award at the Buller Civic and Sports Awards earlier this month.
Scanlon and Neill both paid special mention to the players, management and family support that has attributed them to build an infectious team culture who have again achieved some remarkable results in the 2016 season.
Buller club rugby was reduced to just four teams this season and some loyal fans believed this could be the catalyst to the demise of the Buller side who had enjoyed much success over the past decade with Scanlon and Neill at the helm. It proved not to be the case however as careful planning and management of players ensured this Buller side was going to foot it again with the big boys in the Heartland Competition.
Reaching the heights of the famous 2014 season where staggeringly Buller went through the competition unbeaten until being overrun by Mid Canterbury in the final was always going to be tough. Scanlon and Neill may agree that this season was just as good if not better. They will surely agree that it was more of a challenge with limited playing resources. Buller produced a wonderful round robin winning 6 of their 8 games, losses to South Canterbury and Wanganui their only glitches. Along the way they picked up wins over Mid Canterbury, Poverty Bay, West Coast, East Coast, Wairarapa Bush and King Country. The West Coast Rundle Cup win was a special day for the coaches, it was their 100th match in charge of the side and the boys responded in the best possible way, a record 48-0 victory over the old foe, a befitting result for such a wonderful occasion.
Buller had to face the challenge of travelling to Timaru for the Meads Cup semi-final. Many people around the country thought Buller may provide a challenge but wouldn’t be able to foot it with the South Canterbury side who had only narrowly lost to Wanganui by just 2 points in their only defeat of the season. They had also picked up an amazing 7 bonus points for scoring 4 or more tries in their 8 matches. What eventuated was one of the most heroic defensive efforts you will likely see, Buller defeating South Canterbury 16-6 after trailing 6-0 early in the match.
Buller then faced a daunting final match-up, the high flying Wanganui side who had gone through the season unbeaten including a 28-0 victory over Buller just three weeks prior. Wanganui had Buller’s measure that day however Scanlon and Neill had learnt a lot from that outing. After 75 minutes Buller led Wanganui on Cooks Gardens and many could sense an amazing upset on the cards. Courage, desire, braveness and fearlessness are all words that could be used with this side. As it turned out a late try to impressive Irish lock Gavin Thornbury and conversion to former Super Rugby player Craig Clare gave the Wanganui side a 20-18 win.
It is well documented that Buller along with East Coast have the fewest resources in the competition with regards players and for Scanlon and Neill their job to create a competitive side in the competition starts well in advance of the club season. A tremendous amount of conditioning is required by Heartland members before the season as many if not all clubs struggle to train throughout the season due to a lack of numbers.
Careful consideration has always been paramount when selecting loan players with Scanlon and Neill and they have learnt lessons over their time in charge. Their policy of selecting “good people” has worked wonders for them and the Buller side over recent seasons. Their ‘people first’ approach has provided the glue to what can only be described as a wonderful team culture that has served them so well. It is little wonder that players continue to turn up week in week out, season after season to wear the Buller jersey. A provincial side that has more caps than many of the most experienced clubs worldwide. Perhaps the most pleasing thing for the coaches is to hear the feedback from players in their side. Year in year out players such as James Lash pay special mention to the coaches for their expertise and guidance. For building a game plan and creating a side that allows them to produce wonderful results but perhaps more importantly, enjoy the game of rugby.
There is one quote that seems to sum up the Scanlon and Neill philosophy well “a champion team will always beat a team of champions”.