Just prior to kick-off of the opening 2019 Top 4 girls semi-final between Onehunga High School (representing the Blues region) and Christchurch Girls’ High School (South Island) this humble correspondent asked a group of CGHS supporters who to look out for in their team.
“Our year 11 openside flanker,” they responded in unison, pointing to Jorja Miller in centre field waiting for the referee’s whistle to get the match underway.
By halftime, their punditry was justified. The openside was having a blinder, tearing into anything that moved on defence and creating numerous chances on attack. Her second half performance was just as ebullient as CGHS went on to win 57-7.
Meanwhile, over the trees on the main field at Massey, defending champions Hamilton Girls’ High School enjoyed a 50-7 win over hometown school Manukura.
How would Christchurch and their young openside fare against Hamilton’s superior power and size in the final? As it transpired, Hamilton won the final comfortably, dominating the physical exchanges and winning 58-17.
But once again, it was the performance of Jorja Miller that stood out. She picked up from where she left off and ripped into the opposition in a fearless display in a losing cause.
Jorja was College Sport Media’s Player of the 2019 Top 4, following on from Alena Saili (Southland Girls’ High School) in 2016, Dhys Faleafaga (St Mary’s College) in 2017 and Jazmin Hotham (Hamilton GHS) in 2018 – all in winning teams.
Fast-forward almost two years, and Jorja has recently been named as the only current school player in the Canterbury Women’s NPC squad for the upcoming Farah Palmer Cup national provincial competition.
She is coming off her first full season club rugby. “I have been playing all year so far for the High School Old Boys team. We lost our playoff for third and fourth last weekend against Canterbury University, but this year I have got to know many of the players now in the Canterbury squad.”
This past weekend, Jorja and the squad had an internal camp, ahead of pre-season matches against Otago and the Canterbury Development team.
“It was my goal to make the Canterbury team, but considering it was my first year playing senior rugby and being still at school I wasn’t sure if I was going to be ready for it. But then having been selected it was awesome to get the phone call from the coach!”
The Christchurch Girls’ High School team are the seven-time Canterbury schoolgirls competition champions, and their season is well underway.
“Although we have only had a few games, the weather has been average, and some have been cancelled.”
The final is set down for 11 August, with the winner playing the Otago/Southland winner for the right to represent the South Island at the Top 4. The Top 4 tournament has also been pushed back a couple of weeks this year to later in September.
There was no Top 4 tournament last year because of Covid, but Jorja is one of several players returning from 2019.
She is the vice-captain of her school team this year, with first-five Mia Cochrane the captain.
Mia and loose forward Holly Wratt Groeneweg are in the Canterbury FPC Development team, while year 10 midfielder Kelera Qalivutu is an up-and-coming player to watch.
CGHS also has a second XV in 2021, filled with some exciting Year 9 and 10 talent. The school plans to enter an U15 team at the Condors 7s for the first time later in the year.
From South Canterbury and a student at Timaru Girls’ High School in years 9 and 10 before starting as a boarder at CGHS in year 11, Jorja has been playing rugby most of her life.
“I started when I was four. I was always playing rugby with my brothers in the backyard and my dad played rugby as well, so I grew up around the game and naturally started playing.”
She started off in the backs. “I always played halfback until U12s and then in a rep trial they needed someone to fill in at openside flanker and I ended up playing there and staying there.”
She also played for the Dutch-NZ U18 Women’s team in year 10 and toured overseas and played games in London, Paris and Amsterdam.
“Although I am not Dutch at all! I got invited to play for the team by a coach and joined the team that way.”
As well as 15s rugby, Jorja loves sevens and has found success in the shorter form of the game in recent years.
In fact, she was named in the Condor 7s tournament team two years running and was Player of the Tournament in 2019 when she helped CGHS win the title for the first time in the annual national schools tournament that is played in Auckland every December.
Jorja scored four tries in the final as CGHS beat Howick College 29-14 in the 2019 decider.
They were not able to match the feat in 2020. “We lost our semi-final to Manukura [19-24], which was pretty gutting, but I think looking back we could have worked harder and that would have got us up.”
She has also played in the World Schools 7s tournament in each of the past two years, for the Condor 7s Tournament Team, reaching the semi-finals in 2019 and winning in 2020. “We won last year but that was an internal Aotearoa tournament with no international teams because of Covid.”
This April she played in Wellington in New Zealand Rugby’s Takiwhitu Tūturu sevens weekend, which culminated in two games at Wellington Stadium either side of a Crusaders-Hurricanes Super Rugby game.
“I was part of the Black Ferns Sevens squad, and then we split into two even teams and played each other plus a Moana Pasifika team and a composite Black Ferns team. I really enjoyed that weekend and learnt a lot.”
What rugby format does she prefer?
“At the moment I prefer sevens, because it suits the way I play rugby better. More space, more opportunities to run with the ball. But this 15s season has been really fun so far and I am really enjoying that as well.”
Rugby is not her only sport.
“Highland Dancing is my other passion. I find the two sports complement each other and it helps my rugby. I compete in New Zealand competitions, which is once a year.”
In her last year of school, Jorja hopes to continue with rugby into the future.
“Hopefully, I can go down the Black Ferns Sevens pathways, but I am also thinking of doing health science and becoming a physio.”
Article and photos unless otherwise credited by Steven White, for College Sport Media.
Curtis Heaphy is a young sportsman of Maori ancestry from Palmerston North Boys’ High School who has excelled in both the First XI cricket and First XV rugby teams.
With a willingness to take a risk, composure under pressure, and notable successes in both codes he is inevitably drawn comparisons to Ruben Love, a New Zealand age group cricketer of Maori heritage from the same college who represented the Hurricanes in Super Rugby this season.
Two years apart, Heaphy and Love are good friends.
“He trains the house down but has stayed. His success inspires me," Heaphy said.
"I haven't chosen which sport I'm going to play after school yet. I am actually doing a couple of Uni papers because study is important. I want to keep my options open."
Mature judgement helped Heaphy earn selection as captain for the New Zealand Secondary Schools' Maori cricket team. Twice they've been beaten by the Governor General’s XI in an annual fixture but the appointment of Heaphy didn't hurt the cause.
In January he was the leading run scorer in the Super 8 tournament which Palmerston North won for the first time in a decade. Napier Boys’ High School won in 2012 and since then Hamilton Boys’ High School had won every year.
"That would be the highlight of my time at Palmerston North. The tournament was in Napier and we beat Hamilton Boys’ in pool play which basically knocked them out. We posted quite a big score and I made 99 which was a bit disappointing. I tried to hit another six and got caught by Payton Spencer, my good mate on the boundary.
“In the final we played Tauragua Boys.’ We bowled them out for 162 on a green wicket. It was a tricky chase, but we got it done.”
Palmerston North won by five wickets with Heaphy making 87 off 107 balls. He finished the tournament with 212 runs and has made centuries in local club fixtures and against St Patrick’s College, Silverstream.
Last winter Silverstream was the victim of Heaphy’s heroics on the rugby field. He kicked a sideline conversion in the dark, and on a bog, to help Palmerston North win the Old Boys Cup 13-12.
“We spent the whole second-half in their 22 and couldn’t score. It is pretty frustrating. I remember we put a cross-kick out to the winger who unfortunately didn’t manage to score on that occasion but luckily, he scored a little later when we took some risk to get it wide again.
“I do practice my kicking a lot and try not to kick it too hard. I have a process I go through and trust.
“My family is very supportive. I owe them everything.”
Heaphy has been a trusted member of the First XV since 2019. That was an exceptional season for Palmerston North. Third in Super 8 they reached the Hurricanes Regional final, losing to eventual National champions Hastings Boys’ High School.
“We had a big pack. I would rather play with them than against them. We beat Scots coming from 17-0 behind which was a big highlight. Ruben Love played awesome that day. Super 8 was really good because the only teams that beat us were Hamilton and Hastings who were in the National Top Four.”
Fifth in the 2020 Super 8 wasn’t the greatest result, but two matches were lost by less than a converted try and Hastings Boys’ High School overpowered 25-8.
Palmerston North have made a strong start to 2021 toppling quality opposition like: Francis Douglas Memorial College, Whanganui Collegiate School, Gisborne Boys’ High School, St Pats Town, Wellington, College, Lindisfarne College and Auckland Grammar School.
“I prefer first-five, where I’m playing this year. I like to get my hands on the ball and be involved, attacking and kicking when needed. We’ve got a lot of good players and I hope the experienced boys can lead by example and help us have a good season.
He has been a Hurricanes and Manawatu Under 16 representative.
Christ’s College have defeated Christchurch Boys’ High School in consecutive years for first time since 1997.
An exhilarating contest, in postcard conditions at Straven Road, finished 35-34 in the visitors favour.
The last of six lead changes secured victory for Christ’s. With two minutes to spare, second-five Callum Summerfield kicked a penalty goal from directly in front of the posts 15-meters out. It was his sixth success at goal in a near faultless performance.
Christ’s started with polish and aggression, deserving of their 8-0 lead. Summerfield opened the scoring after five minutes with a penalty before fullback Angus Hammett latched upon a kick by Ben Ward that was fumbled by Christchurch inside their own 22. The conversion attempt by Summerfield was smacked into the left-hand upright, his only blemish from the tee.
Christchurch fullback Jack White nailed all six of his shots and a penalty from just outside the 22 opened the hosts account. Summerfield quickly responded for Christ’s to make it 11-3.
Both sides would fall victim to charged-down kicks and a deflection and gather by Christchurch wing Noah Saukuru saw a try in the left corner, supremely converted by White.
In the 24th minute a series a barging charges by the forwards saw Christ’s enter the 22. Wing Shane Rutherford-Bradford carried on the shoving all the way to the line.
The halftime score was 18-10 with the last ten minutes of the first-half highlighted by staunch tackling, cagey territorial kicking and multiple turnovers leading to impulsive attack.
Christchurch burst out of the blocks and charged to a 24-18 advantage seven minutes after the resumption. Centre Guy Jensen, often difficult to restrain, wriggled through traffic and released White who supplied Lachie Cartwright in a sweeping movement that stretched both touchlines and 60-meters.
Christ’s was then isolated in their own-half after a panic lineout. A turnover occurred and Riley Brewis scored after the feverish forwards had Christ’s in retreat.
Christchurch’s lead was short-lived. A charge down from the kick-off saw lock Jonny Lee collect and scamper clear. It was a legendary moment from the captain. Summerfield converted to make it 25-24.
Already a cracker, the quality of the spectacle soared to even greater heights with little interruption from the referee. Both sides showed great intent, discipline, and skill as it became evident little separated them.
White kicked Christchurch ahead 27-25 with an angled penalty from 35-meters, but the deft boot of Rutherford-Bradford saw Hammett outpace the defence and Christ’s lead 30-27. The try was started at halfway after the ball was handled right to left by forwards and backs in a thrilling passage of passing.
With the heavier pack Christchurch was able to pressure in the scrums. They won a tighthead and reserve outside back Will Lindsay touched down in the right corner after a dummy-cut in midfield spilt open the defense. Another conversion to White made the score 34-32.
The winning penalty for Christ’s wasn’t contentious. It came from a textbook breakdown turnover as Christchurch risked preserving possession inside their own quarter. The last three wins by Christ’s over Christchurch have been single pointers.
No.8 Hendrix Taylor is worthy of acclaim for Christ’s. His bustling industry caused pain for Christchurch and might earn him the nickname Voodoo if any of the kids still listen to rock ‘n roll.
Further North in the Miles Toyota Championship, Marlborough Boys’ College stunned Nelson College 20-17 to inflict a first defeat of the season upon 2019 champions Nelson.
After four rounds of the competition nine teams already have at least two wins. St Thomas of Canterbury College and Timaru Boys’ High School are the unlikely leaders with four wins each. Christ’s College jumps to third while Christchurch are sixth with two bonus points earned for their efforts today.
Head to Head
Christchurch Boys’ High School Wins: 84
Christ College Wins: 44
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