Ta'avao: Similarities between champions Taranaki & Sydney Rays

By Pete Fairbairn, 14.09.16

We’re nearing the halfway stage of the 2016 Buildcorp NRC, and to help build the following and profile of the competition, the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) has engaged a blogger from each of the eight teams to write for the RUPA website on multiple occasions throughout the season; next up we hear from the Sydney Rays’ Kiwi prop Angus Ta’avao.

26-year-old Ta’avao moved to Australia this year after signing a two-year deal with the Waratahs, and he played every game for his new side in his maiden campaign in Sydney as they finished second in the Australian Super Rugby conference.

Prior to moving to Australia, Ta’avao made 49 Super Rugby appearances for the Blues as well as 60 Mitre 10 Cup (formerly ITM Cup) appearances for Auckland and Taranaki, winning that competition with Taranaki in 2014.

This week, he talks about the importance of having a third tier competition in Australia, as well the similarities he’s finding between the Rays and that Taranaki side as they head into Round Four undefeated and at the top of the NRC table.

Angus Ta’avao - In His Own Words, NRC Round Four:

This year is my first involvement with the Buildcorp NRC, even though a couple of niggling injuries has kept me out of action thus far (and for at least another week or two).

Coming over and signing with the Waratahs, it was in my contract that at the end of the year I would be aligned to an NRC team and would have to play in this competition but that was about all I knew about the NRC. I hadn’t followed it from New Zealand at all, but obviously we’d heard that they had introduced it and I thought it was really important that Australia came into line with other countries; it is massive in terms of development for every country to have a really competitive and high level base of Rugby below the professional level.

In the past, Shute Shield was able to provide that level but that finishes quite early in the year and then professionals who weren’t playing International matches would just be stuck with a really long pre-season. Now the NRC provides that playing field where you can carry on and grow, and where guys who aren’t quite up to Super Rugby level yet or haven’t been found yet can perform on this next stage in front of scouts and coaches.

In saying that, the NRC has a long way to go; at the moment it’s just a couple of nights a week training, and most blokes are working during the day. That’s probably the biggest difference between Australia and New Zealand at this point in time and the reality is that the level isn’t quite as high yet as it is in the Mitre 10 Cup, New Zealand’s third tier equivalent.

The NRC is also not as popular with fans as it needs to be yet, however when you look at the Mitre 10 Cup one of the advantages it has that we don’t yet is all of the history behind it. The teams are built on towns that have Rugby as a big part of the community, and where it is massively important to them.

The commercial development of the competition and the Rugby development side of things go hand in hand, and if the ARU were able to make more money from the competition then they could re-invest it to put players into a more progressive program and take that development to the next level.

I give the Mitre 10 Cup a lot of credit for helping make me the Rugby player I am today; it’s a great stepping stone for a young bloke, and to be able to go into an environment where that is your fulltime job for three months of the year will benefit any player. In the Mitre 10 Cup, they also have great coaches, there are great players around you, and while the NRC has that as well you don’t get to spend the same amount of time to really take advantage of the learnings that come from that. For example, some of the Rays boys are builders and farmers and then they have to come to training after a big day of work; they’re still improving through the experience, but it’s a pretty draining process.

In saying that, as a group the Rays are tracking really well. We’ve come together quickly in a short competition, and the group are really enjoying each other’s company. We had a pre-season camp at Macquarie University and instantly we bonded well.

We have a lot of players who people aren’t too familiar with, and we have a lot of great Club players from the Norths championship winning side as well as a few guys from the Waratahs, Brumbies and Aussie Sevens program. We want to bring an exciting style of Rugby to the competition and it’s great that we are three from three so far, but we definitely feel like there is more left in the tank and that’s exciting.

Head Coach Simon Cron has been awesome; everything has been built really well in terms of culture and the players’ willingness to work for him. All the boys are buying into his structures and the way in which he gets his message across to the boys is really simple. Having a coach who has a focus on culture is great, and then he backs it up with his knowledge and desire to play the game the right way and then picking the team he thinks have the skills to execute that.

Not many people talked about us as NRC contenders and I can definitely see some similarities between the Rays and Taranaki in 2014, when we won the Mitre 10 Cup. At the start of that year we were favourites to get relegated and were paying about $30 to win the competition, and this year a lot of people looked at us and the Rams in the same way as we don’t have as many professional players as the other teams.

In saying that, I think we have definitely got some great Club players who would be capable of playing professionally. Will Miller won the Ken Catchpole Medal for the Shute Shield Player of the Year, and he is a great player; you look around, and Australia has a gold mine of sevens running around, but he’s a special talent. Then you’ve got Irae Simone, who has just signed with the Waratahs for next season; you could literally roll through close to the whole team and I would back them to play at the next level, so that’s really exciting.

We don’t care what anybody else thinks about what we can or can’t achieve and where we can get to. Week in, week out, we will just try and do our job and that is definitely a common trait between us and the ‘Naki team from 2014. Hopefully I can get back soon and rip in, because I would much rather be out on the field than watching from the sidelines.

The top of the table clash against the Eagles this Saturday at Rat Park will be a ripper. When the Eagles boys came into the Waratahs gym this week there was a bit of banter flying around about not talking to each other! If you look at both teams there is a lot of talent there, and we’re two teams who like to play expansive Rugby and use the ball well.

It’s going to be a great match to watch with surely plenty of points, and in terms of rivalry you’ve got two teams here who are vying to be the first team from New South Wales to win this competition. For the NRC to grow moving forward rivalries are going to be massive, and this week is a big test to see which of these two teams can take the next big step forward.

2016 Buildcorp NRC, Round Four (all times local):
- Sydney Rays vs. NSW Country Eagles, 1:00pm Saturday September 17th, Pittwater Rugby Park, Sydney
- Melbourne Rising vs. Brisbane City, 3:00pm Saturday September 17th, Harlequin Rugby Club, Melbourne (LIVE on FOX Sports)
- Canberra Vikings vs. Western Sydney Rams, 1:00pm Sunday September 18th, Viking Park, Canberra
- Perth Spirit vs. QLD Country, 3:00pm Sunday September 18th, UWA Sports Park, Perth (LIVE on FOX Sports)

Pete Fairbairn
Communications Manager
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