FOCUSSING ON THE YOUTH
JUST ACROSS the Ashburton River lies the tiny town of Tinwald.
It follows that you do not have far to go to find the Tinwald Rugby Club, 117 years old and with a clear plan to climb back into the Senior A ranks.
That involves investing time and effort in the JAB ranks and the Under 16 team so that one day soon Tinwald can again play with the big boys of Mid Canterbury rugby.
The club has a proud history and some of the finest players out of the province have hailed from here. Adam Thomson played his junior rugby for Tinwald, up to Under 11 grade, and still sponsors the team with some gear and the odd coaching session. Murray Roulston and John Smitheram are Tinwald men who each played well over 100 games for the union. And there is club legend Geoff Frew, who meets me at the clubrooms along with president Victor Schikker, secretary John Howe and proud Tinwald man Andy Ruck.
The clubhouse is modest but there are plans to build new clubrooms a few hundred metres down the road where four fields service all the rugby needs. They are council owned, while the Tinwald Family Sport and Recreation is a holding body in which rugby, softball, netball and cycling each have a quarter share.
The club colours are now orange and black, for the Tinwald Tigers, but it has not always been that way. Black and blue or maroon and gold have also been worn over the years. The black and blue was canned due to a clash with the Rakaia club.
The club’s Senior B status was out of necessity, due to lack of numbers. Even Frew admits that it has never picked from huge numbers.
“To be fair, we have never had to select a senior team. Whoever was there, got in. There was never a selection process,” he says.
Schikker says the focus and emphasis is now on building from the juniors up.
“The club has become very JAB-orientated, though we did have two Senior B sides last year.”
One of those sides made the final, but there is more work to do, and in 2012 this flagship team will battle it out with eight other clubs, including Mt Somers, another Senior B club.
“It’s part of the club’s intention to try and build back to senior ranks, but as we have seen with other clubs, it takes a long time and we have to be dominating that competition before we even think about making that step up. We’re not there yet,” says Schikker.
One of the difficulties for Tinwald is that the playing fields are so far from the clubhouse, meaning organising a large after-match function is challenging as people just jump in their cars after the game and drive home or into Ashburton.
Schikker would like to think that the relocation, still in the pipeline, would alleviate that current disconnect.
“If and when that happens, our plan is to build clubrooms on the site and get that club culture back again.”
Already there are signs that some of the old boys are reintegrating back into club life. Terry Reynolds, for example, is one former player who helped out the Under 13s in 2011 and loved it.
There are some intense local derbies involving Ashburton clubs, but Celtic has historically been the big clash, even in the junior ranks.
Ruck has an old saying that gives you some idea of how tough it used to be facing Tinwald on its own turf.
“It used to be said for city clubs coming to play Tinwald that you got three hidings: one on your bike on the way over, one on the field and then one on the way home!”
IT’S HARD to go past six Mid Canterbury Senior A titles from 1984-87, ’90 and ’94, the golden era of Tinwald rugby.
Geoff Frew played the lot of them, all held at the Ashburton Showgrounds.
“Those titles were pretty good. To win four in a row was huge. We would do floats. The street would be shut off and it was huge.
“I remember waking up one morning before we played Celtic (in a final). I had an old house in Ashburton and went out to get the mail and [the mailbox] was all painted in shamrocks. I found out about five years ago who did it! That was all part of it and it was a helluva lot of fun,” says Frew.
He recalls a tight-knit team partying like there was no tomorrow after the first win in 1984. The shindig lasted two days.
Ruck recalls with fondness the 2009 Under 18s who won the combined Ellesmere/Mid Canterbury competition: “There was a lot of pride in that team.”
Frew was the coach and apparently trained the boys hard, but they did the business, and helped win the union’s club of the year award.
GEOFF FREW is a deadset legend of Tinwald Rugby Club and the Mid Canterbury Rugby Union.
We know he played 154 games for the union as a centre/wing from 1979-94, but his senior career for Tinwald spanned 1978-96, no less than 19 seasons. He may have played something in the vicinity of 300 senior games for the club. His brother Warren, a flanker, also played over 100 games for Mid Canterbury.
But it all began for Geoff Frew in 1966 in the Tinwald Under 6s. He lived just down the road and has remained loyal ever since. Not only did he play in all six Senior A championship sides, he was skipper in several of those finals.
After his playing days – which included South Island and NZ Legends representation – came to a halt, Frew coached the Senior Bs to a title and also the Under 16s and Under 18s with notable success.
He admits he’s not a committee person but is “a pretty staunch Tinwald man”.
“It’s achieving something with your mates. To win a championship here, with Tinwald people, exceeds anything I’ve done in rugby. It’s still the Tinwald boys that got you (into rep teams) and I never forget that.”
Frew was to be made a Tinwald life member, along with his old club and rep teammate John Smitheram, this year.« Back to Club of the Week
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.