The place to be this weekend is Auckland’s Sacred Heart College, where many of the college games hot steppers, speedsters, and big hitters will congregate for this year’s Condor Sevens tournament.
The move to Sacred Heart from its previous venue at Kelston Boys’ High School has come in part due to another expansion in the size of the tournament. Eight more boys sides have been added along with four more in the girls, taking the two fields to 32 and 20 teams respectively, so four fields will be in use. That has allowed for both the addition of spots to some of the bigger provinces, while also ‘breaking-up’ several regional qualifiers and giving some of the Heartland unions a direct entry into the event; but disappointingly some have chosen not to take up the invitation.
When adding the 28 boys (including one from the Cook Islands) and 16 girls teams that will contest the one-day Under 15 events on Friday, that’s 96 teams and over 1000 players who will take the field over the three days.
The boys field is headed up by two schools that qualified for the national XV’s Top Four. Hastings Boys’ High School may have dipped out then to Mount Albert Grammar School, but have perhaps been the form team of the year and will be targeting this weekend to get the championship they will feel they deserve, while third-placed Hamilton Boys High will be looking to retain this title after being a class above in winning it last year. However they only managed to finish third in the Waikato qualifiers, and owe their place at the nationals to the expanded field.
The two sides that fought out the national Co-ed XV’s final, Feilding High and Aorere College, will also be counted as real contenders. The former are no strangers to this event, while the latter were the impressive and perhaps surprise winners of the Auckland qualifier.
One talking point going into the event is the seeding method adopted by the tournament organisers, which seems to have been based on where a particular school finished last year, or where the school from their region (if not the same) did. That has led to a seemingly bizarre scenario where small Nelson school Garin College are seeded ninth while Otago Boys’ High School are listed last; albeit Otago haven’t made the long trek north in the past couple of years.
Another is the tournament format; with the 24-team field of previous years teams that finished second in their three-team pool had an opportunity to still make the Cup field when matched up against a pool winner in the round of 16 at the end of the first day. With the expansion to 32 only the pool winners will progress through, so a loss in pool play could very well be fatal to a side’s hopes of glory.
Aside from those above, other teams that bring a reputation to the tournament include Rotorua Boys’ High School and Wellington’s St Patrick’s duo Town and Silverstream while you can’t count out the hosts Sacred Heart. The South Island trio of Christchurch, Otago, and Timaru Boys will seek to become only the second school (after Aranui High) to take the title south over Cook Strait.
The notable absentee is national 15’s champions MAGS, who despite qualifying have chosen to not to compete, citing the absence of a couple of leading players and tiredness among the squad after a long season.
All four schools that played at the Top Four have also qualified here. Southland Girls’ High School will be aiming to add this title to their 15’s triumph and like their Boys counterparts Hamilton Girls’ High School will be aiming to retain the title they won in impressive fashion. Kaipara College will certainly see themselves as title challengers but all three will have to be wary of Wellington’s St Mary’s who not only won their own qualifier in a canter, but backed up to win their provincial Women’s title as well.
Other sides that will be keen to show that they have solid credentials include Auckland winners Howick College, perennial contenders Feilding High School, tournament regulars Southern Cross Campus , New Plymouth Girls’ High School and Christchurch Girls’ High School. On an individual level, several schools will also include players who have or soon will feature in their full provincial sides over the summer series.
Tournament organisers have opted to place the 20 teams into five pools of four, meaning that the three best second-placed teams after pool play will progress along with the pool winners through to the quarter-finals and the knockout phase of the competition.
The U15 tournament has also expanded greatly this year, up from 16 boys teams to 28 boys and 16 girls teams. The U15 tournament will run all day Friday and competition is expected to be just as hot as in the senior ranks. The defending champions are New Plymouth Boys’ High School (boys) and Howick College (girls).
Seven to Watch
Billy Proctor (St. Pats Town) - The New Zealand Secondary Schools' midfielder has performed strongly in lead-up tournaments. In the Hurricanes tournament in Palmerston North he scored two tries in the final and was selected for the tournament team. In the Wellington 7s, won by Town, he was perhaps the player of the tourney with his ability to create space for others and score tries with his sometimes searing pace. Billy is the younger brother of NZ Maori rep Matt Proctor.
Kini Naholo (Hastings BHS) - The younger brother of All Black Waisake Naholo, Kini also plays on the wing and has made a big impression in sevens. He scored three tries in the Hurricanes Sevens final which was won 33-22 by Hastings over St. Pats Town. Naholo is used on the flanks by Hastings where his strength and speeds seem him often evade the defence.
Kaleb Trask (Rotorua BHS) - The Bay of Plenty Rugby Union Sports Person of the year will be vital in Rotorua's attempt to reclaim the title they won so impressively in 2014. Trask, a NZ Barbarians selection, is quick on his feet, reads a game intelligently and is an accurate drop kicker. Trask will be the central play maker in a strong looking Rotorua team.
Cheyne Copeland (St Mary’s College) - Look out for the girl with the number nine on her back in the ‘all black’ team, Wellington’s St Mary’s College. Diminutive danger woman Cheyne Copeland has pace, a quick step and a terrific kicking game in general play. The St Mary’s fifteens rugby first five-eighths kick and chasing is a real threat to opposition teams and with less traffic to navigate often reaps rewards in sevens too. Look out for Cheyne to work well with the likes of captain Monica Tagoai, the Faleafaga sisters, Dhys and Lyric, and the team’s two NZ netballers Ana Puleiata and Renee Savai'inaea.
Alena Saili (Southland GHS) - Alena Saili was this year’s Southland Secondary School’s Sportswoman of the Year and for good reason too. The Southland Steamroller knows her way to the try line. With speed, light footwork and a team-first attitude, Southland’s captain and number 13 Alena could spell bad luck for other teams at this year’s Condors. The NZ Touch representative will also have her sister Sipa Saili on her shoulder, as well as several other teammates that won this year’s National XVs girls title.
Iva Livani (Howick College) - Howick College won the U15 girls tourney last year and their seniors are the present open Auckland champions, with only a single Year 13 in the roster. Year 11 student Iva Livani is particularly promising. She won the U15 player of the Tournament last year and is noted for her speed and astute and accurate passing game. Livani is a multi-talented athlete who also play rep netball and touch and is a member of the Howick College senior volleyball team.
Rameka Poihipi (Hamilton BHS) - Hamilton are the defending champions and have won three times under the guidance of Nigel Hotham. Last year Hamilton prevailed despite Rameka Poihipi exiting the tournament early with a serious injury. He was carried on to the field by his teammates for the trophy presentation. Poihipi has been in top form in 2016. He was selected for the New Zealand Barbarians and his creativity, leadership and swift footwork will be key in Hamilton's push for another title.
Pool A – Hamilton Boys (Wkt), St Pauls Collegiate (Wkt), Western Heights (BoP), Otago Boys (Ota)
Pool B – Hastings Boys (HB), Tauranga BC (BoP), Palmerston North Boys (Man), Rangitoto College (NH)
Pool C – Rotorua Boys (BoP), St Pats Silverstream (Wlg), Westlake Boys (NH), De la Salle College (Akl)
Pool D – Feilding High (Man), Mt Roskill Grammar (Akl), St Peters, Gore (Sth), Otahuhu College (Akl)
Pool E – Christchurch Boys (Can), St Pats Town (Wlg), Thames High (TV), St Pauls, Auckland (Akl)
Pool F – Timaru Boys (SC), Kerikeri High (Nth), Wesley College (C-M), Liston College (Akl)
Pool G – Aorere College (Akl), New Plymouth Boys (Tar), Kelston Boys (Akl), Manurewa College (C-M)
Pool H – Sacred Heart (Akl), Garin College (Tas), St John’s College (Wkt), Francis Douglas MC (Tar)
Pool G – Hamilton Girls (Wkt), Southern Cross (Akl), Cambridge High (Wkt), Wanganui High (Wgi)
Pool I – Southland Girls (Sth), Kaipara College (NH), New Plymouth Girls (Tar), Gisborne Girls (PB)
Pool R – Tauranga GC (BoP), St Mary’s (Wlg), St Hilda’s (Ota), Mt Roskill Grammar (Akl)
Pool L – Feilding High (Man), Howick College (Akl), Rangitoto College (NH), Wesley College (C-M)
Pool S – Christchurch Girls (Can), Motueka High (Tas), Bay of Islands College (Nth), Mt Albert Grammar (Akl)
Pool play starts at 9.30am on Saturday with the last games at 4.05pm. The Girls Cup final is at 4.20pm on Sunday, with the Boys Cup final following.