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Warren Johnston to coach Nelson College 1st XV

Warren Johnston, shown here in more familiar pose, will coach this year's Nelson College First XV rugby team.

Warren Johnston, shown here in more familiar pose, will coach this year's Nelson College First XV rugby team.

Warren Johnston has accepted one of the more intriguing challenges of his already celebrated rugby career following his appointment as coach of this year's Nelson College First XV.

The former Northland and Nelson Bays representative amassed over 200 first class games in a playing career spanning 15 seasons, in which he also accumulated more than 2000 points. Johnston also played for the New Zealand Colts, New Zealand Maori, New Zealand Divisional XV and the Chiefs Super Rugby team.

But even the experienced former fullback/first five-eighth admits he'll be moving well outside of his comfort zone by taking on his new role.

With former Nelson College coach Lachie Taylor stepping down after three years at the helm, Johnston was initially encouraged to apply for the position before last year's South Island under-15 tournament, where he coincidentally helped coach the Nelson College team to the title.

That was in August, and it took another nudge just prior to christmas for Johnston to finally put his name forward. He was officially appointed eight days ago.

Playing over 200 first class games is one thing, but Johnston acknowledged the different pressures involved with coaching - particularly a Nelson College team that consistently performs to a high level in the annual UC Championship Crusaders Region secondary schools competition.

Nelson College won the title in 2007 and has reached the final twice in the last four years. Last season they lost 10-3 to Christchurch BHS in the semifinals.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that Nelson College currently hold the Moascar Cup - the Ranfurly Shield of New Zealand second schools rugby - and later this season, will host the annual Quadrangular Tournament.

Still, Johnston said that it was an opportunity too good to miss.

"It's a great opportunity just to move forward in my coaching," Johnston said.

"It is a big thing, I'm sort of heading into the unknown, but I know it's full on every weekend."

It won't be an entirely new gig for the now 49-year-old professional painter.

He was head coach Bill Liddell's assistant when Stoke won consecutive Nelson Bays senior club titles in 1996 and 1997. Since then, his coaching has been restricted to age-group teams, including his son Connor's former Marist intermediate grade side and, in tandem with Jack McNabb, several years in charge of Nelson and Nelson Bays age-group representative teams.

Johnston has co-opted former hard-nosed Collingwood and Nelson Bays No 8 Brendon Robinson as his forward coach and will also have long-serving Nelson College team manager Peter Grigg back to ease him into the job.

Johnston's not wasting any time. Squad training starts next Tuesday, with 14 of last year's squad returning to help with the transition.

A 14-man Nelson College squad is heading to a sevens tournament in England from March 18-30, during which time the Nelson College First XV will be playing two pre-season games.

"So it's going to give a chance to everyone else who's hanging around the fringes a bit of a crack to show us what they've got," he said.

"Obviously there's a lot of boys coming back, which helps this year. They'll have been used to having their previous coach for the last three years, but we're going to have new ideas and new patterns of play.

"They're a good bunch and they've got plenty of good skills, so the plan is to get them fit and keep that running rugby going, that's the main thing. It's just a game at a time and like I say, I don't really know what to expect, but I know it's going to be tough.

"I'm really enjoying my coaching and this is a massive step for me, but you've got to take these opportunities. I've got to put myself under pressure as well."