Rippa of a coach

Former Chiefs player and Hautapu coach Craig Stevenson with some of Hautapu School’s young Rippa Rugby players. He is joined by coach Mark Forbes (top left) and team manager Hadley Searle (back, centre).

The bounce of the rugby ball has gone Hautapu School’s way.

“We’ve had an offer from a rugby coach to come and work with the 6th grade team,” the email from Hautapu School sport co-ordinator Stephanie Barr informed parents.

The school is preparing to field a Rippa Rugby team in a nine-week season facilitated by Cambridge Junior Rugby Club which starts in a month.

Now, that coach – who began his role of “working with the team on a couple of Tuesday afternoons after school” this week – is none other than Craig Stevenson – former head coach of the Hautapu Senior A side which last year brought the Waikato Breweries Shield home to Cambridge for the first time in about 12 years.

A 22-16 win over Fraser Tech in the 2019 final ensured the silverware returned last year – after the 2006-07 Hautapu sides repeated the back-to back efforts of the club’s 1998-99 squads.

In 2019, the side added the Shield to the Ron Crawford Memorial and Has Catley Trophy awarded for being first and second round winners.

Statistically too, it was the perfect season – the team won all 18 games it played on its way to Waikato club rugby championship glory.

When the News reported the accomplishment last year, Waikato Rugby Union officials hadn’t officially confirmed it, but rugby anoraks were confident Hautapu’s perfect record was the first since the competition was launched in 1967.

“It’s far broader than just me,” Stevenson said, looking back on the success.

“It’s about being surrounded by a team of people – both players and coaches – who are all committed to working hard towards one goal, which we managed to achieve last year.”

Stevenson has stepped aside as Hautapu’s senior A head coach, but remains a scrum coach with the team.

He’s played provincial rugby for Waikato from 1991-1996 and was part of the inaugural Chiefs team in 1996.

He was an assistant coach for the franchise.

Stevenson’s newest “role” – after he was approached by a friend to help out with Hautapu School’s Rippa Rugby programme – now has all of his attention though.

The school’s players are five and six years old and the Rippa format sees players wear tags during a game – when an opposition player removes a player’s tag they must stop running and pass the ball.

Stevenson can’t wait to get involved.

“It was a no brainer.

“The best aspect is simply encouraging kids who are excited about getting out and playing sport. And then seeing parents who might not usually be involved come along as well.

“It’s about having fun, it’ll be amazing seeing big smiles on their faces.”

“I was their age when I was first introduced to rugby.

“Who knows, we might have future All Blacks and Black Ferns in the team.”

While there are plans to run kicking, passing and catching exercises – the emphasis is on having fun, he said.

Barr said Hautapu School has had Rippa Rugby team for several years, and this year about 15 children were keen to play.

It was exciting having Stevenson involved, she said.

“At this age it’s all about getting kids out and about and enjoying themselves – they’re very keen.”

The CJRC Rippa Rugby season kicks off next term.


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