Written by Terry Hodges
After four seasons as the Director of Rugby at Ponsonby Rugby, Nathan Kemp signs off on the 28th of July and will head to the UK to assume the role of Housemaster at a Boarding School in the Greater London area.
If all goes according to plan his final task will be to lock the prized Gallaher Shield away in the purpose-built cabinet at Ponsonby’s Western Springs Stadium clubrooms.
Just four days after the Gallaher Shield final he and his family - wife Zoe, and children Harry, Charlie and Amelie depart Auckland for the United Kingdom. As a qualified teacher, Kemp will teach A Level Business Studies and Physical Education at the Oratory School in Woodcote, located between Reading and Oxford. Furthermore, he will coach the Under 15A’s at the school, with no immediate plans to coach at a higher level.
Educated at Epsom’s St Peter’s College, Kemp captained the First XV, in addition to gaining national honours in age-group and national secondary schools rugby. He was regarded as the odd one out opting to play for the Ponsonby club rather than Marist where many of his First XV team-mates would have headed.
He came to Ponsonby in 1998, largely due to living nearby, but additionally as he had the opportunity to play Premier rugby straight out of school. Under coach at the time Wynne Jones, he initially played as a loose forward, despite his preference to be a hooker, but that spot was already occupied. However, he did eventually make the number two jersey his own. In all, he played 85 games for the Ponsonby Premiers between 1998 and 2004, including captaining the side to Gallaher Shield success in 2001, 2002 and 2004. He laments the 2003 semi-final which Ponsonby lost to University, as well as his side losing the final to Otahuhu in 2000 at Eden Park. With fond memories he does recall the semi-final in 2000 where Ponsonby edged Suburbs on the Eden Park number two field. Kemp was one of the try scorers on that day, where he ‘took the last pass in a wonderful move from Stanley Afeaki, and then streaked down the left flank to score’.
His speed of the mark and work at the breakdown was invaluable, which inevitably saw him selected for the Auckland B’s and then the Auckland A side, and for the latter he notched up some 12 appearances.
During his time at Ponsonby, Kemp also caught the eye of national selectors, and was named to play for the New Zealand Maori Colts and New Zealand Barbarians, which eventually earned him a spot in the Blues Development team and then the Blues squad in 2004, making his debut against the Bulls.
With All Blacks Keven Mealamu and Derren Witcombe ahead of him as the Auckland A hookers, Kemp decided to move south to play for Manawatu. He played 18 games for the Turbo’s, and also joined the team’s staff as a Rugby Development Officer. As a natural leader, he was named to captain Manawatu against the touring British Lions side in 2005, and with humour recalls that the match was a cricket score that day (109-6 in favour of the Lions).
Whilst still under contract to Manawatu he moved to England in the 2006 off-season to play for Bradford and Bingley, before returning to Manawatu to play in the Provincial Championship and to secure his club release. It was in this season that he was awarded the prestigious Air NZ Second Division Player of the Year award.
Once again he jetted to the UK where he connected with the Cornish Pirates, followed by a stint with the Jersey Rugby Football Club in the role as a player/coach. Kemp was one of Jersey’s first professional players and was regarded as ‘the nucleus of the club’s revival’ in the 2013 season, when they remained unbeaten, and rose to third in London 2 South with a tremendous run in the second half of the season.
As it transpires it was during his time in Jersey that he met the lady who was to become his wife, and at the time her father was the Director of Rugby and Coaching at the club.
It was in early 2015 that Nathan packed up his family and returned to New Zealand, arriving at Ponsonby with a very impressive resume, assuming the role of the Director of Rugby at the club in March of that year. He acknowledges that he had big boots to fill as his predecessor was the great Bryan ‘Beegee’ Williams, and whilst he felt the pressure in the role, Kemp’s driving force was to do the club proud. Due to his previous history with the renowned club, he was acutely aware of the club’s important culture and the expectations that would be on him to nurture this.
In his first year in the new role, at the age of 36, he also donned the rugby boots again, playing for the injury hit Premier Reserves and the Premier sides.
In his four years as the Director of Rugby he has seen the club develop and grow, and he established a good rapport with the players, contributing his clear and strong technical knowledge of the game.
He recognises that the Ponsonby Premier side are placed on a pedestal and is immensely proud to see this side in the Gallaher Shield final in 2018. Given this, he can confidently leave our shore next week satisfied with the work that he achieved and knows that the club is in a good place.
Nathan Kemp will sign off on Saturday in good style, and on Saturday night he will reflect on a job well done.