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Diminutive Buller to play with the big boys

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The countries smallest union has done it again

11807251_956040874453013_2620228735756497868_oThey have defied their size in the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship and qualified 3rd to make the Meads Cup playoffs. Despite only having four senior clubs in their catchment, all of whom fight tooth and nail to get a side out on the park each week, they have continued to beat much fancied sides in the competition winning six games. Their only two losses coming against the two teams ahead of them on the table, Wanganui and South Canterbury.

Last weekend Buller capped off their round robin with a 40-38 win over King Country in Taupo and in the process cemented a birth in the Meads Cup finals. Staggeringly it is not Buller’s best finish in the round robin.In 2014 they went through the round robin unbeaten before eventually being overcome in the final by Mid Canterbury.

To say Buller have an experienced side would be like saying the All Blacks have a good team – an understatement of massive proportions. Their starting forward pack from last weekend boasts an incredible 546 caps including three centurions – Luke Brownlee (183 caps), Phil Beveridge (164 caps) and Logan Mundy (105 caps). It’s hardly a new backline either with their starting backline recording 263 combined caps for Buller. Halfback Andrew Stephens is nearing his century with 94 games whilst midfielder PeniNabainivalu has played 84 games. In total a starting XV with 809 caps. On the bench, a further 168 caps as well.

Let’s add in the coaching duo – the two Craig’s. Craig Scanlon and Craig Neill have been at the helm of this side for a decade, during the teams impressive 48-0 Rundle Cup win over West Coast this season, they celebrated their 100th match in charge of the side, in itself an amazing achievement.

The team has an incredible range in age. Tighthead prop Phil Beveridge at the tender age of 42 is still playing a pivotal role in the side. The youngest player Ciaran Neilsen at age 18 was still 4 years away from being born when Beveridge made his debut for Buller.

What is the secret? Many locals may well tell you it is not the Westport water, instead, the team is built around an amazing culture instilled by the coaches and senior leadership group. Many teams struggle on the road. Not this Buller outfit, who relish spending time away together. Win, lose or draw, the team sing, laugh and immensely enjoy each other’s company whilst still being able to train and play with that competitive edge.

Buller have been blessed with some excellent loan players over recent seasons through the careful research of selector/coaches Scanlon and Neill but their research is based not only around the playing credentials of these players, but their personal attributes and fitting within this team culture.

Man for man, Buller may well concede they are not the most skilled men in the competition but you can be rest assured this group of men (young and middle aged) will join as one and give every single bit of effort for the cardinal and blue jersey that is Buller.

Buller will surely have their work cut out this weekend if they want to book their place in the Mead’s Cup final. South Canterbury have been playing excellent rugby of late and a loss to Wanganui early in the competition is their only blemish. Perhaps their hardest fought victory was in round 1 however when they overcame a large half time deficit to nail Buller late 28-26 in Timaru. The two teams have produced some excellent matches over their time in the Heartland competition with Buller winning 5 of their 7 match-ups. In three of those wins, the margin has been 3 points or fewer.

Come Saturday evening, the Buller side will know whether or not they will be playing the following week. The season already has been an overwhelming success however you won’t hear any of the players saying that just yet, their sole focus will be about putting in another courageous effort that will yet again do this small district proud.


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