A Kiwi's rugby mission

A Kiwi by birth, Bevan Lynch eats, sleeps and breathes rugby, having played the game from youth. Married to a native of Holland he has made Londonderry his home for now. Here he talks to Sentinel reporter Olga Bradshaw about how he is relishing his remit to bring rugby to the masses, raising the profile of the game in schools and across the City, as well as nudging the City teams up the League ratings...

Bevan what teams are you coaching here at the minute?

City of Derry Senior XVs. I have got them, but I also actively help the other coaches in the Club, right through from the U-13 to the U-19s.

I've been told you are from New Zealand, so did you play there?

Yeah. You don't really have an option, y'know. It's our national game, so I played from the age of four through to the age when I was told I was too old and told to give up. So, I have played since I was a young boy...

What were your personal highlights?

I played provincial rugby in what was called the National Provincial Rugby and I played for Manawatu and for the Hawkes Bay - the two provinces where I lived. I played for Manawatu in university and then played for Hawkes Bay when I returned home.

What position.

I was what they call 'inside centre' here.

Right.

So i played there pretty much all my career. I got to a pretty decent level, but I was unfortunate in that there were a number of players who were very good, higher representative players, who kept me on the bench quite a bit, but I managed to pick up enough caps over four or five years. Out of our province we had Mark Ranby who went on to play for the All Blacks...also another guy, Murdoch Pawaei. He was a New Zealand Maori.

So when did you come over?

My first time over was in 2001.

Why did you stay - particularly given the weather of the last three to four months?

I have not been here all the time. From 2001 to 2004 I was at Foyle College as the rugby master there.

You were the rugby master?

Yeah, yeah.

So you came over to teach, then?

Yeah. I was in charge of rugby coaching under Gerald McCarter, at the Foyle and Londonderry Grammar, so I was not head of rugby, I was employed as a coach, and I was here three years.

What led to you coming to Northern Ireland - presumably you could have gone anywhere..?

Yeah. It was a contact from a friend of mine who was living in Skerries at the time. He came over and he married an Irish girl and he was just back during the holidays. I went about it nearly the opposite way that most New Zealanders do it when going on an overseas experience, y'know. What I did was, because my rugby career was over I went overseas, so I finished my teaching qualification and started teaching firstly in a primary school and then in boys' secondary. I didn't do any travelling because I wanted to further my rugby career, so I stayed at home. I was coming to the end of my rugby career, I think I was 31 when I came over. I was going to come over as a player, but the easy option came up when I could come over here and coach and play for the local team.

So have you been able to keep your hand in playing?

No...the last time I came over I played Ulster League games for the City of Derry team, but we have overseas players - you are only allowed one listed overseas player. Now I'm too old and disgraceful to turn out with a side.

So you play the memorial matches and the like?

Yeah - the golden oldies games! I've managed to roll out for a them a couple of times. But I still enjoy it and miss it but as a coach you can stay involved in it.

It's been a bit turbulent for the guys you have been working with historically speaking. I know you've been doing the 'round robins' of late. How have you been getting on with that?

We have had a pretty successful two years, but we are into the 'business end' of the season. Last year we played 29 games without a loss and managed to lose two out of the last three games, which are the most important, and this year we had a pretty tough league and were forced to play an extra play-off. It has been tough on us. We have won the Ulster League again, so again we have only dropped one game in the League.

It is still hard work to get that length, and it is a shame when you reach the final hurdle to see things go awry...

Yeah, but it is the business end of the season and we unfortunately dropped our first play-off game, so we have got two more games to go and if we win both then we give ourselves a chance of winning the competition or finishing second, and then by right, if you finish second you go to a play-off with the bottom team, which is Portadown who look like they will be in the relegation play-off. So, yeah. It's all to play for. We are pretty disappointed that we missed an opportunity. We haven't been beaten at home for two years now, so it would be a huge blow if...

Did the teams get a boost from the Six Nations' matches?

Rugby is becoming, in the north anyway, is becoming more accepted in a lot of the non-traditional rugby schools, and part of my brief is to try and get into schools where it is not a traditionally-played sport.

Do you find that there is more interest in playing the game on a cross-community level because it has become 'the game'?

I'm oblivious to a lot of the things in the past with regard to sectarianism, but City of Derry has always been a mixed club and our club has never had that atmosphere. It has always had a safe and enjoyable environment, but you do, after being here for a number of years, realise there is division. You have a lot of tremendous athletes and we have a lot of GAA boys on the team whose ball skills and aerial skills are just great. It is a game that is well suited to boys full-stop because boys love crashing into each other, their natural instinct is to take chunks out of each other and rugby provides an outlet for that. It has wide appeal and when we go into these non-traditional schools they love it. They cannot get enough of it, so we are hoping that, in conjunction with the Council this year who have made some funding available to develop rugby in the City, and now that the Ulster Branch has indicated the funding of community development officers, we are hoping to work pretty closely with the Council in developing it in the City. We are a good City. We are as big as Limerick and it probably has seven AIL (All-Ireland League) teams and we've got no one, so really we are under-achievers for the size of city we are. There are plenty of people around here who could play and who could guarantee Derry be a force in the future and that is what my brief is - to develop the game.