Clash of successful coaches feature of premier club final

Action from last year's club rugby final between University and Harbour at Forsyth Barr Stadium....
Action from last year's club rugby final between University and Harbour at Forsyth Barr Stadium. PHOTO: GERARD O'BRIEN
University coach Peter McIntyre is chasing an eighth consecutive banner.

Taieri boss Phil Young is looking to finish on a high.

That is just one of the notable match-ups in today's premier club final at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

McIntyre was not keen on talking too much about his record as a coach. But it is good. Very good.

He collected six consecutive titles with various colts sides and, in his first year with the premiers, University shared the title with Harbour.

He has the magic touch.

His opposite, Phil Young, has an extensive coaching record.

Young has been the Otago and Highlanders assistant coach and also had a three-year stint as the Southland head coach in 2002-04.

And this season he has led what was arguably an unfancied Taieri side through to the final, on the back of 10 consecutive wins.

He plans to retire from coaching, so a win today would cap off a tremendous career in style.

"Phil is a great coach and has been coaching for a long time," McIntyre said.

"We know that we have an enormous challenge in front of us with respect to Taieri.

"The last time we played they won that game and, as you say, they are a very well-drilled side.

"They are not going to give us an inch. But we are confident as well."

University has seemingly always had some exciting talent out wide but this season they have played with real physicality. The front row of Kilipati Lea, Ricky Jackson and Angus Williams has provided a wonderful platform from the scrums, while tearaway openside and captain Jack McHugh has the silky skills of a back and deceptive strength.

McHugh has been well backed up by hard-hitting blindside Sam Dickson, while lock Josh Hill is a real talent.

Taylor Haugh has provided the main spark in the backline. The fullback has an impeccable sense of timing and a large attacking arsenal to draw on.

The match-up between hard-running centre Tyler Beary and Taieri's Matt Whaanga should be interesting. Whaanga is an emerging Otago talent with a big future ahead and a key figure in the Eels' midfield.

Young listed Whaanga as one of his standout players this season alongside hooker and captain Tom Hardy. But he was reluctant to single players out.

A major part of Taieri's success this year has been in managing players' workloads to ensure everyone is fresh come the playoffs.

Young felt that was a failing last year and was not going to repeat the mistake.

The other telling factor was simplifying the game plan after a slow start to the season.

"We had to go back to the knitting we knew," Young said.

"We do go out there with the desire to attack but we have put a lot of emphasis on our defence.

"Defence comes down to good attitude and the players all bought into it."

Taieri had a really tough finish to the round-robin phase. It had to play top-four sides Green Island, Harbour and University before the playoffs.

The 23-18 win against Harbour at home at Peter Johnstone Park was particularly good for the confidence levels.

The Hawks dominated the collisions but Taieri was tenacious and stuck to its structures. It was a bruising encounter and a good game to win.

"That was vital and created a lot of belief within the group. We really had to roll our sleeves up."

Young, who is in his early 60s, plans to retire from coaching after the final.

"For me, that is probably going to be it. I've been around for a while and it is time for someone else to take over the reins."

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