On August 1 three wildcard teams will be announced to join 13 other schools in the Top 16 finals of the National Secondary Schools Football championships in Tauranga.
Tauranga Boys’ College have been a regular in the Top 16 for the best part of two decades. Tauranga were even runners-up in 2002 and have won the Super 8 title three times.
Despite their past pedigree and some strong form this season Tauranga are not guaranteed to be in the field. In the tough Waikato/Bay of Plenty qualifying region, Tauranga finished third behind Hamilton Boys’ High School and St. Peter’s College, Cambridge.
Tauranga achieved wins over Trident High School (5-0), St. John’s College (3-1), Hillcrest High School (4-0), John Paul College (2-1) and St. Paul’s Collegiate (10-0). The match against St. Peter’s, Cambridge was exciting and controversial. Tauranga Captain Wilson Fisher explains what happened.
“The game kicked off in overcast conditions at 3:30pm. St. Peter’s was a strong side and the game was even. It was 1-1 at halftime and then they scored again to make it 2-1. We replied. and started to get on top and then they had a man sent off. We hit the crossbar and were really starting to dominate when suddenly the referee called the game off 10 minutes early sighting bad light. He claimed he couldn’t see, we could, and were furious.”
The draw kept St. Peter’s ahead of Tauranga in the push for Nationals as the top two teams automatically qualify and St. Peter’s enjoyed a stronger goal difference. If Tauranga achieved a draw against Hamilton Boys’ High School in their final game they would advance, but it wasn’t to be, Tauranga slipped 2-1.
“We got an early goal from a set-piece, but to their credit Hamilton scored two outstanding goals and deserved to win. They played some great football and are a good side,” Fisher concedes.
Further misfortune was to follow. Tauranga topped their group at the Super 8 tournament. They beat Napier BHS (3-0), Hastings BHS (1-0) and held Hamilton BHS to a 1-1 draw. Napier have qualified for the Top 16 and the Hamilton result was achieved despite resting five top players.
In the semi-finals Tauranga faced hosts Palmerston North BHS. Fisher captures the drama.
“In the first 10 minutes the Palmerston goalie cleared the ball off his line twice. We bullied them and if it wasn’t for their keeper we could have won four or five nil. We hit the post, had the ball cleared off the line several times and just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. The game went to penalties and we missed four in a row and they won 2-0.”
In the playoff for third Tauranga trounced New Plymouth BHS (a top 16 wildcard applicant) 3-0. Earlier in the season Tauranga beat Auckland Grammar School (top 16) 3-2 on their home ground for the first time in several seasons.
Tauranga has 11 year 13 players. Fisher plays in the centre of midfield where he is a regular selection at rep level. He is optimistic Tauranga will receive a wildcard.
“We have had a really good season. A bit of luck hasn’t gone our way, but the boys are in great spirits and I believe we will be a strong team at Nationals.”
Interestingly Connor Probert, Dylan Bull, Dylan Morris and Luke Johnsonare four NZ age group reps from Tauranga Boys’ who have gone Auckland schools on scholarships. Retaining talent isn’t always easy for Tauranga, how do they cope?
“We don’t have a hostel so the Auckland Schools often take our top players, but we keep on keeping on. We work hard and have a lot of talent in the school and faith in our coaches Mr Howard and Alex Bryant,” Fisher concludes.
P.S. Charlie McIlwaine scored an incredible seven goals in the 10-0 win against St. Paul’s Collegiate.
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