Rugby: Focus on family for Highlanders

Hosea Gear with partner Kate Yates and their children Kaden-Ray (17 months) and Kaliyah (6). Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Hosea Gear with partner Kate Yates and their children Kaden-Ray (17 months) and Kaliyah (6). Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
Family is the focus of a Highlanders training camp in Wanaka this week, as part of coach Jamie Joseph's strategy of including players' partners and children in the team environment to improve performance on the field.

The Highlanders squad and their families arrived in Wanaka on Monday for several days of training and leisure activities before their pre-season game against the Blues in Queenstown on Friday evening.

Yesterday, following an early morning training session, the group was hosted at Eely Point by several Upper Clutha Rugby Club representatives for an afternoon of boating and other watersports on Lake Wanaka.

''We've done our rugby for the day and this is about the families enjoying themselves and getting a bit of quality time in the bank before the season starts as much as anything,'' team manager Graham Purvis said.

The group includes more than 40 children, who will be looked after by the players following their training session today, while the women do a tour of local wineries. Other Wanaka attractions on the Highlanders' itinerary this week include Puzzling World, the National Transport and Toy Museum and Have a Shot.

Joseph's family inclusiveness approach was implemented when he first joined the Highlanders in 2011, Purvis said.

''That's really what sets the Highlanders apart from many of the franchises I suppose, and it's been a real attraction.

''We have quite a big family component to our group so clearly it's important that they're involved in the role of being part of a Super Rugby player's life as well.''

Joseph said including players' families was a natural way to build a cohesive team.

''When I first came to the job there wasn't a lot of local talent contracted ... the players that came in came from all over the country,'' Joseph said.

''You can come into it and you can play professional rugby, but if the families aren't happy or don't feel part of the community then it tends to reflect in the performance of the players.

''It costs us a lot of money [to bring the families on training camps] but we make sacrifices in other areas because we just find this is really important.''

He said Wanaka was favoured for the annual training camp as it was less commercial than Queenstown.

''The thing about Queenstown, I love it, but to try and ... create what we want to do out of the camp, which is be together, Queenstown's a little bit easier to do your own thing, if you wanted to. There's a lot more distractions, whereas here [Wanaka], particularly for kids, it's ideal.''