Flanker Cam Russell made his debut for the Burnside High School First XV in Year 10 and was thrust on to the wing against St. Bede's College, then the toughest team to topple in the UC Championship.
"That was pretty daunting, but I really enjoyed it," Russell recalls.
Later that season Burnside conceded a century against Christchurch Boys' High School confirming that Burnside rugby was a mess.
"That season was pretty tough. It was embarrassing to be in a team that lost by 100 points. On the sideline that day was Mark Robertson and Kevin Harding. They are old boys of the college and agreed that this couldn't carry on. They decided to coach the team and completely changed the way we approached things," Russell says.
The following season Burnside lost in the last minute to Christchurch BHS.
"We were guttered to lose that game, but at the same time it showed how far we had come. It was a real vindication of the work we put in," Russell explains.
This Saturday Russell celebrates his 50th match for the First XV when they tackle Rangiora High School in the UC Championship.
"I have to prepare for this game like it's any other, but it's pretty special to reach 50 games. I have been playing for a pretty long time," Russell says.
Russell is in his second season as captain. He scored nine tries in 2015 as Burnside achieved a top six finish for a second consecutive season. Russell was good enough to earn selection for the Crusaders Knights U18 camp.
"It was great to go to the Crusaders camp and test myself against the best in the region. A few years ago I was playing in weight restricted reps and was encouraged to go up a class in weight even though I was a lighter fellow. Playing against heaver guys really challenged me and I think it helped build confidence and resilience in my game," Russell says.
Russell identifies two exceptional games from his time in the First XV.
"In 2014 we won the Crusaders co-ed final against St. Andrew's College. That was a phenomenal game at STAC. There were a few thousand spectators who turned up and it was really close. We were down with a few minutes to go when one of our international players did a cross-kick. I thought, 'what the hell are you doing'? We need to keep hold of the ball. Suddenly our blindside flanker caught the ball and scored a try and we won."
"We also beat St. Bede's on their home field. Jack Lindsay had a phenomenal game that day scoring three tires. We came back in that one to," Russell recalls.
In this season’s topsy turvy UC Championship Burnside have won two out of four matches. They were whitewashed by Christchurch Boys' High School, soundly beaten by Christ's College, struggled past Lincoln High School and required a last-minute try to foil St. Thomas of Canterbury College. Is Burnside's good run about to come to an end?
"It's true we haven't had a great start, but I really think that things are starting to click. We have a better understanding of who our top combinations are and we played some pretty good rugby at times last weekend. Christ's surprised us to be honest. They are a really good side who played such smart rugby. They were fit and strong kicked accurately. We couldn't get any go forward that day because we were stuck in our half for the whole game," Russell says.
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