For a decade now these two gentlemen have guided the Buller side to some amazing feats. The perennial easy beats of national provincial rugby are now a distant memory under the guidance and tutelage of Craig Scanlon and Craig Neill.
The pair first started co-coaching Buller in 2007 and this season recorded their 100th match in charge of the Buller side in the annual Rundle Cup match against West Coast. The result was befitting of the occasion, a record Rundle Cup victory,48-0 over the old foes.
Since 2010, this Buller side has produced some mind-blowing achievements. They were finalists in the 2010 Lochore Cup, semi-finalists in the 2011 Lochore Cup before winning Buller Rugby’s first piece of national silverware in 2012 when they claimed the Lochore Cup. The following year they were finalists again in the Lochore Cup before they produced a stellar 2014 season, going through the round robin unbeaten, only the second team to achieve such a feat in the Heartland competition. After beating Horowhenua-Kapiti in the semi-final they were beaten by Mid Canterbury in the Meads Cup final. An amazing season and quite an unbelievable season for New Zealand’s smallest union. In 2015 the team were semi-finalists again in the Lochore Cup before this season where they have just defeated South Canterbury in Timaru to make the Meads Cup final for the second time.
Scanlon (known as Bart) and Neill (known as Bug) are the countries longest standing current coaches of the 26 national unions. They have a record and winning percentage that many unions would be envious of.
The Union is made up of just 4 clubs in the Buller District. Four clubs which struggle to field a starting 15 let alone a squad of 22 each week. Where many of those club training’s can only consist of small games or drills based on availability. When the Heartland squad is selected, many players need to complete some serious conditioning in order to stand up to the rigors of playing Heartland Rugby.
The backbone of these successful Buller teams has been a remarkable team culture that has been instilled by the coaching duo, along with some extremely important coaching structures and game plans that has allowed this team to be successful. Its culture is very infectious, it is a team that is hard to leave. Take veteran 43 year old Phil Beveridge for example. Many times over recent years he could have hung the boots up, however he has continued on and last weekend produced a barnstorming game in the teams win over South Canterbury.
It is well documented the staggering amount of caps this current Buller side have. It signifies the enjoyment and satisfaction these guys have when pulling on the cardinal and blue of Buller and playing under Scanlon and Neill. Year in year out, many players such as Luke Brownlee, Beveridge, Logan Mundy and Andrew Stephens to name just a few continue to put their hand up for selection in order to be a part of this team.
Player depth is crucial to performing well over a long season. For obvious reasons that depth is continually challenged in Buller. Many people will be unaware that this side was forced to play a 6-1 forwards/backs split on the bench last weekend. It certainly wasn’t by design having 4 front rowers on the bench however more through necessity as the ‘backs’ stocks at home were stretched to breaking point.
It is unclear how much longer these two fine men will continue coaching the side, but one thing that is clear is that Bart and Bug have taken this team to places perhaps the Buller Union thought they could only dream of and that is something they can be mightily proud of.