Pops Arona has been named as coach and Matt Mullany will be the manager. They are both New Zealand residents who are keen to play a role in the continuing development of local rugby.
Arona, who has been the head coach of the Te Rarawa senior side in Northland since 2015, is a former Arorangi Cowboys halfback who has a keen rugby mind.
“Pops, he was a fantastic halfback. He was very fit because he trained so hard,” said MP William “Smiley” Heather, who was the captain of the Arorangi side during the time Pops was halfback.
“He was a real team player. He had a great connection with the forwards and the backs, and he was great on both attack and defence. He was a great passer and could always spot a gap.”
His time as halfback has similarities to being a coach, as it requires leadership skills and an intimate relationship with both the backs and the forwards. This natural transition is reflected on Arona, the current holder of a level two coaching certificate from the Auckland Rugby Union.”
However, Heather was quick to point out that as the coach, Arona will probably need the assistance of someone with a deep knowledge of forward play.
“You need someone who really knows about the loose play and the tight play of the forwards, and the differences between the two.
“Someone with experience in that area would really help him along, because there isn’t much point in having a dangerous backline if there is no one to provide them with the ball.”
Forward experience is the domain of Mullany, who has represented the national team at hooker since 2011.
Born and raised in Hawkes Bay, Mullany, who represents Johnsonville in Wellington at club level, bucks the typical forward stereotype with his academic background.
He graduated from Otago University in 2009 with a double major in English literature, and is currently a Maori education researcher at the New Zealand Council for Education Research.
While the date for the tournament has not been set, it is expected to take place in late November to early December, with Tonga likely to take part, and possibly Fiji.
Fiji’s place in the tournament is undecided as they are competing in the World Rugby Under 20 Trophy competition in Uruguay, taking place in September.