'I got sick of passing the ball': Former halfback's journey to New Zealand U20s as a No 8
The often laconic chat of Cooper Flanders is compatible with his no-nonsense approach to rugby.
The industrious loose forward, selected for the New Zealand Under 20s, prefers to deal in actions rather than words.
His father Michael is the same. He runs a septic tank business in Havelock North, Cooper helps when he can. Since the Napier flooding the Flanders have been “flat out.”
Cooper thought his selection prospects for the ‘Baby Blacks’ would be flattened in March. A day before Super Rugby Under 20 in Taupo he suffered a borderline stress fracture in the shin which ruled him out of the tournament.
“I don’t know how I got the injury, nor do the Hurricanes doctors. I was buggered, but what can you do,” Flanders told RugbyPass.
All Blacks Sevens coach Clark Laidlaw is coaching the New Zealand U20s alongside former Black Ferns assistant Wesley Clarke.
Flanders was stunned when he heard the voice of Scotsman Laidlaw in a “surprise” telephone call inviting him into the wider squad.
“I thought I was gone burger. Clark is a good guy. I spent a week with the All Black Sevens, I learned a lot,” Flanders said.
It took time for Flanders to establish his best position. He started as a halfback at Hastings Boys’ High School.
In Year 11 he was “too big” to play in the backs, so he switched to No 8 and made the First XV.
In 2017 Hastings produced one of the best 1st XVs ever seen in New Zealand. They were unbeaten in 21 games en route to winning the National Top Four title. They kicked their first penalty goal of the season in their penultimate fixture.
Kianu Kereru-Symes, Jacob Devery, Lincoln McClutchie, Danny Toala, Kini Naholo (41 tries in 20 games), and Cooper’s brother Devan Flanders have all played Super Rugby from that team.
The following year Hastings capitulated losing every single Super 8 match.
In 2019 Cooper was a raw Year 11 with no fear and the 1st XV was able to repeat as national champions.
“We had a good culture that year, things clicked, we moulded together and took out Nationals which no one believed we could win,” he said.
“I loved eight. I got sick of passing the ball and telling people what to do [as a halfback].
“We had eight returning players in vital positions. Their learnings from the previous year and the standards they set were important.
“Hamilton Boys’ were out big rivals that year. They beat us twice in Super 8 but the final in Hamilton was close. At Nationals we beat them 11-10 in the semis.”
Hastings beat King’s College, Auckland 27-14 on a miserably cold Palmerston North afternoon in the National final. Flanders was inspirational in a resounding success against older and larger opponents.
“We had nothing to prove or lose. It’s quite good playing with that mindset.”
Hastings mindset in 2020 was the opposite of 2019. Spectacularly they collapsed again and lost every Super 8 match. Managing Covid and high expectations proved overwhelming.
In 2021 Flanders had leadership responsibilities and Hastings were resurgent.
“We made the Super 8 and Hurricanes finals losing to Hamilton and Napier. We won everything else, so it was a good season,” Flanders reflected.
“My leadership style is to have a patience mindset. Nothing needs to be rushed; you have eighty minutes.”
“Too small” to play eight, Flanders swapped to seven and made the New Zealand Secondary Schools.’
“I love to tackle, the breakdown, getting turnovers. I’m a seven through and through now. I still run but I’m a bit small in the lineout.”
The New Zealand Under 20s go into camp in Wellington on May 19 ahead of two internationals against Australia starting ten days later. Eight players will be cut from the existing squad of 38 for the World Championships in South Africa in June and July.
Devan Flanders was a New Zealand Under 20 representative in 2018. Another brother Ethan has played canoe polo for New Zealand.
Cooper trains with the Hurricanes senior Super Rugby squad.
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Gavin Hastings, was playing was he? 🤔Go to comments
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