Rugby Rivalry – The Old Bar Clams

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The sport of Rugby Union has a long history on the Mid North Coast and has enjoyed mixed fortunes. We speak about Rugby to Phil Wilkins, Club Member of the Forster Tuncurry Dophins and Old Bar Clams Club President, Tim Brown.

The Old Bar Clams were one of the foundation teams of the Zone … when was this, and how many teams were in the competition then?

Yes, that is correct. The competition started in 1981 with Old Bar, Port Macquarie, Taree, Gloucester and Kempsey fielding teams. From 1981 until now, the Clams have won the first grade premiership on six occasions in the years 1982, 1986, 1987, 1992, 2009 and 2011.

Every team has an opposing team they’d most like to beat. In Sydney, the Marlins love to win against the Rats, while QLD cherishes beating NSW at Super 15 … on the international arena, the Wallabies love to beat the All Blacks. Which team does the Clams most cherish thwarting, and why?

Forster Dolphins and Manning Ratz equally. We have had a healthy rivalry with the Dolphins since the start of the Southern Shield Competition. Both clubs have played in the last four grand finals, with two wins apiece.

Our rivalry with Taree is considered a ‘local derby’. Both Clubs play for the Charlie Crook Memorial Trophy annually and since its inception, the Clams have won three years running. The level of Rugby between all clubs has come a long way since I’ve become involved.

In years past, players would have the opportunity to play for the Mid North Coast Rep Team, The Axemen. This team is picked from all clubs from Gloucester through to Coffs Harbour. Once selected, players represent MNC at the Country Championship each year.

Due to lack of interest and/or the right formula, MNC Zone isn’t present at the annual Country Championships. The MNC Zone is looking at other ways to encourage player participation at this level … it would be great to showcase the Rugby talent of the MNC at Country Week.

Have the new rules significantly changed the shape of the game and made it more of a spectator sport (for instance, it’s not uncommon to see the back rowers standing in the centres from the set pieces)?

The new rules are aimed at player safety and cleaning up the ‘breakdown’ area, to see quicker ball recycling. The only criticism I have is that the game has become over ruled!

Safety is paramount in our game … when you have two teams with combined weights of 1,700 kg, safety rules need to be in place to ensure players aren’t injured.

Since the amended scrum laws came in, the ‘Touch, Pause, Engage’ process gives all players the opportunity to set and be ready for the hit. In earlier years, you would see scrums pack and come together in an awkward looking mess!

In my time in Rugby, I haven’t seen any neck injuries occur from the scrum.

Given that it’s rare to hold the ascendancy at all phases, where are the Clams aiming to dominate most of their opponents this year – up front in the tight 5, at the breakdown, or out wide?

The Clams have been fortunate to maintain a similar playing roster for the last three to four years. Our strength is all across the park! We dominate through our big mobile forwards, then unleash our backline with space provided.

We are extremely fortunate to still have a large group of ex players offering their experience and support to up and coming players. Richard Crook, Brad McLaughlin, Darren Drury, Todd Kennewell and Allan Davis combined would have played close to 700 games of Rugby between them. Their combined experience is shared among current and new players.

Will you be fielding a Reserve Grade this year?

We won’t be fielding a Reserve Grade side, purely due to lack of numbers. It would be fantastic to see each club field a Reserve Grade and U19s sides but due to young people leaving the area for work, we can’t get the flow on of players to secure Reserve Grade or U19s.

In years gone by, there had been healthy numbers for reserves and U19s. All clubs in the M.N.C. Rugby need to pull together to make this happen.

What are local clubs doing for junior Rugby development, and is the ARU offering assistance?

NSW Rugby has a four to five year plan for Rugby Development. Junior Rugby has been neglected over the years, but NSW Rugby is now actively developing Rugby at a high school level up and down the Mid North Coast.

Rugby Union has been predominately a private school sport, which some would say has been to the detriment of Rugby Development.

The main thing that stands out is any new player that comes to Rugby from other codes then plays Rugby – they seldom leave. In the Central North Competition, they have a well advanced Rugby Competition from 6 – 10 years to U16s, U19 Reserves and First Grade.

The task of refereeing can be a thankless one … is the zone well stocked with qualified referees?

I wouldn’t say we have an abundance of referees. The Referees Association seems to manage allocating refs week in, week out. I’m sure they would like to see more participation in our code. As people would know, refereeing is a thankless job, and not many people take on the role.

Tell us about what happens on bus trips to away games?  

Plenty! We have two bus trips this year … the first trip is one to Tea Gardens, where we are versus Myall Lakes Mud Crabs on 28 April. The second trip is to Gloucester on 28 July. We organise Bob Coupes’ 25 seater bus from Hallidays Point for our transport. Our bus trips are a great opportunity to bring the team closer together and let our hair down.

Thanks Tim.

For more information about the Old Bar Clams contact, Tim Brown: – 0408 667 129.

Special thanks to Pat Breese for his insight into Rugby and pertinent questions for this feature.

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