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Mastermind . . . Tokanui Rugby Club head coach Roger Buckingham (centre) proudly displays his Rugby Southland coach of the year trophy with his son's Kaelan (left) and Ben Buckingham on Monday. PHOTO: SUPPLIED BY ROGER BUCKINGHAM.

The mastermind behind Tokanui Rugby Club’s undefeated season has been rewarded for his success and lauded for his part in transforming his club’s fortunes.

Tokanui coach Roger Buckingham was named coach of the year at the Rugby Southland awards on Monday.

The side won 14 games on the trot to win Rugby Southland Division 2 this season.

Buckingham was modest about his contribution and put the season’s success down to the hard work of the team.

“I’m not sure that the team’s success is really down to all my coaching. We were extremely lucky with the team we ended up with,” he said.

Rugby Southland marketing co-ordinator Jack King said Buckingham helped transform Tokanui rugby.

“Tokanui last year didn’t have a great season and Roger’s been coaching for a while and this year they went through unbeaten and completely flipped.

“The fact they went unbeaten – it showed the work he’s put in over the years come to fruition,” King said.

His love of coaching began as a player-coach when “nobody else wanted the job” for the club.

“I guess I learned to coach by trial and error.

“I was lucky to have a lot of experienced players in that team that were only too happy to tell me when I was talking rubbish.

“I love coaching the basics of rugby like passing, kicking and tackling, then seeing players use those skills to pull off something a bit tricky.”

When life got tough off the field, being immersed in the club helped him find himself.

“It was when I had my own mental health issues I realised how big an influence a good team environment could have on an individual and how important a club is to a community where young fellas can spend a lot of time working by themselves.”

It was important to put in the work to get the best out of his players on and off the field, he said.

“I believe when you coach any team in any sport where the players turn up voluntarily you need to be prepared to improve the skills of those players to benefit the team.

“The satisfaction and belief that players can get from that can not only help them to have confidence and self-belief on the field but also in their daily lives.”

The team put an emphasis on enjoying its rugby and its training sessions, not just focusing on the wins.

He felt it helped his players relieve the stress from their busy lives and enjoy the players’ company. Having players from the Tokanui area was vital for the club.

“The club benefits from the community support when they see young locals in a positive light on the footy field.”

He first played for Tokanui in 1989 and credited Bruce Lamb, Lex Chisholm and Donald Hay for igniting his passion for the game. He would coach next year with assistants Daniel Webber and Brendon Cook.