The boycott of the Saint Kentigern College First XV is a landmark stance in the debate about poaching, recruitment and scholarships in college sport.
Do these sporting acquisitions provide greater opportunities for students or do they become mere mercenaries in an institutions attempt to win a championship?
Dalton Papalii, from a league background in Howick, is perhaps the greatest vindication of St Kent’s rugby programme. Papalii was on a scholarship from Year 9, became First XV captain in 2015, and was recently selected for the All Blacks at the ripe age of 21. Those who witnessed Papalii play could see the benefits of St Kent’s coaching and conditioning.
By contrast Isaiah Punavi, a New Zealand Secondary Schools staring centre at Christ’s in 2017, shifted to Auckland for his final year of schooling in 2018.
Already a member of the Crusaders Academy, it’s hard to see what benefit Punavi derived from his move. St Kent’s failed to win the 1A championship and though Punavi was appointed New Zealand Secondary Schools captain, St Kent’s claiming they bolsted his already considerable talent is a tenuous claim at best.
A lot of the sensitivity in the debate appears to be around who fosters the talent. St Peter's College headmaster James Bentley told Stuff. “You get so much satisfaction from seeing a team of your boys who have grown through the school, you galvanise the community because they've known these kids growing up and then when you get to a final it means so much.”
“Schools that try to short-cut that by bringing in players who aren't familiar to the community in their last year will lose that aspect.”
In the original Hearld story breaking the boycott there are three letters published highlighting the correspondence between the 10 headmasters and St Kent’s. In one of those letters a Mrs Suzanne Winthrop is alleged to have said St Kent's needed to ‘top up’ by offering scholarships to senior students because sometimes those offered scholarships at Year 9 did not develop as expected.
Doesn’t this ‘top up’ admission reveal the program to be flawed? Why are those taken in at Year 9 not developing as anticipated? St Kent’s comes across as having little regard for players who aren’t the finished article, remembering as a private school St Kent’s can already accept whoever they like.
Mark Reason wrote in Stuff, “the Auckland Ten's decision to refuse to play 1st XV rugby against St Kentigern next season is about far more than rugby. It is about teaching kids that money can't buy your soul. It is about loyalty. It is about keeping rugby in perspective. It is about not fostering an arms race that will end up in young men injecting themselves with steroids.”
This sentiment has been echoed by the head of Sport New Zealand Peter Miskimmin and rugby players association chief Rob Nichol.
It's not just rugby though where widespread movement for sporting reasons occurs.
From National champions in 2017 to defaulting a local competition fixture less than 12 months later. What happened to the St Mary’s College senior basketball team is a cautionary tale.
The collapse in their fortunes was caused by three leading senior players and a coach moving to private school rivals Queen Margaret College (QMC).
Coach Junior Hunter and representative standard talent Grace Hunter, Te Araroa Sopoaga and Rosie Campbell all departed at the end of 2017.
The Hunters were the first to go, Grace for “academic reasons,” followed by Sopoaga and Campbell.
QMC charges $5097.90 per term compared with St Mary’s annual fee of $1,915 per year. It's hard to believe no financial assistance was being provided to the girls.
Despite their acquisition QMC failed to win the Wellington, Zone 3 and National titles which Hunter, Sopoaga and Campbell achieved at St Mary’s.
St Mary’s improved from 12th at Nationals in 2015 to 9th in 2016 and champions the next year. Staying together and building a strong team culture was far more beneficial for the girls.
St Mary’s was so depleted that on July 27 they defaulted their Sharp Cup fixture against QMC.
The Tauranga Boys’ College First XI football team have long been ripe for poaching despite being coached by a former New Zealand Secondary Schools assistant coach Neil Howard who receives no salary for coaching Tauranga.
In 1998 five players left to attend Westlake Boys’ High School. Their intention was to be located in Auckland who were hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 1999. Tony Lochhead and David Rayner who kicked onto become All Whites were apart of the exodus, but Tauranga actually beat Westlake 4-2 when the two sides played. Ironically Clinton Boyle scored a goal for Tauranga in the game concerned. His brother Shane Boyle was playing for Westlake.
In 2015 the First XI had lost the services of the following boys who had not just attended the school but had played in the First XI in previous years. Dylan Bull and Connor Probert where at Sacred Heart College, Luke Johnson was at Westlake (and St Kent’s in 2016) and Dylan Morris was also St Kent’s.
In 2014 Bull and Probert were in a Sacred Heart team that beat Tauranga 2-1 at the Nationals, Sacred Heart went onto win the tournament. This year, for the first time in five, Tauranga didn’t lose a single player and unsurprisingly achieved their best finish in five years.
Tauranga Boys’ College First XI Football National Placings 2014-2018
Carlos Price and Peni Lasaqa were Tauranga Boys’ lost to the St Kent’s First XV. The Hynds Trophy, a long standing traditional fixture between the schools is no longer contested.
It would be easy to apply a laissez-faire approach and simply allow an unregulated flow of sporting talent to go wherever they like. However sport is one of the few professions in the world where salary caps are applied in many codes to try and maintain some equality.
Sport is a genuine career path, but it’s a short term one that comes attached with considerable risk. Only two players from the National championship winning Hamilton Boys’ High School First XV in 2013 are playing regular first class rugby. Paul Cully stressed on Stuff the debate shouldn’t be about “winning, but the outcome for boys.” Cully poses the questions
“Are (boys) being best served by being put through almost professional-level programs at a young age, only to realise later in life that they peaked at 17?”
Guardians of sport have an obligation to make sure their games are competitive and enjoyable for its participants. Tellingly in 1A this season 42 games were decided by 20 points or more compared with 22 five years ago. Could it be the growing inequality between the top and the bottom teams is a reason for the widening margins?
Despite their extensive recruitment King’s College haven’t won a single grade out of a possible 38 finals in the past two years. Why the clamour to go to King’s?
It’s not simple issue, but it's bigger than me, myself and I.
A coalition of schools have agreed in principle to boycott playing Saint Kentigern College First XV in the 1A competition next season. Ten schools have issued a letter to St Kent’s refusing to play them on the grounds of a recruitment policy being deemed morally and ethically reprehensible. Such a stand is extraordinary and has generated considerable attention and debate.
Why has such a stand taken so long?
St Kent’s have been actively recruiting since at least 2010 when they went from fifth in Auckland to National Top Four Champions two years later.
What incentive exists for local fee paying students to rugby at St Kent’s?
Conversely, what happens to the scholarships of the “five senior elite players from rival 1st XVs” if St Kent’s have no competition next season? At this stage these boys have been led up the garden path.
St Kent’s and King’s have had the same rugby director involved with their First XV’s. Is this individual the person causing concern rather than the entire First XV program? Has this person done anything wrong under College Sport Auckland rules?
Tasesa Lavea has coached both the St Kent’s and King’s 1st XV’s. His twin brother Tai coached St Kent’s. Both coaches are open about the benefits of distributing scholarships and haven’t broken any specific rules though Tai was forced to stand down in 2010 after a season earlier being found guilty of luring a player away from Aorere College.
If 10 schools refuse to play St Kent’s don’t St Kent’s automatically win the 1A competition?
Five points is gained for a default and unless King’s (the only school at this stage willing to play St Kent’s) makes the final and beats St Kent’s, St Kent’s would automatically qualify for the Blues regional finals series. The ten other schools would have to lobby to have the blues zone finals restructured. St Kent’s would have to conform to the rules of the National competition. How would their prospects be affected by this?
Who will St Kent’s play next year if ten teams from 1A refuse fixtures?
Could St Kent’s play Colts rugby in the Auckland club competition? The Presbyterian Quad is an annual schools event. Will this continue? The World Schools Championship is set to be played in South Africa again. Could St Kent’s consider Australia for a series of games or would they just tour New Zealand, doing what Gisborne Boys’ have done for years and hit the road. Gisborne is of course in the Super 8 who supports the stance of the 10 boycotting Auckland schools. If outside sanctioned school competition, St Kent’s would be entitled to distribute as many scholarships as they like. With careful planning and sponsorship could they become similar to an international youth academy in time.
Is the National Top Four a problem?
Going to the “right school” has become increasingly important in reaching the elite level of New Zealand rugby. This fact was best illustrated in the naming of the New Zealand secondary schools development squad when 21 players were selected from six private schools. Similarly there are perhaps only a dozen schools nationwide that consistently enjoy a genuine shot of winning the National Top Four title. Does the Top Four need to be done away with to subdue some of the championship fervor within schools? Strengthening representative competitions, could help keep more players within their communities. What about a National U18 competition based on the U19 model?
Will schools similarly aggrieved by widespread recruiting in other competitions follow suit?
Scots College, Wellington had eight boys on scholarship in their National Top Four winning starting XV in 2014. St Andrew’s College, Christchurch and Otago Boys’ High School are just two other schools who have attracted criticism for their “recruiting.”
What does all of this say about the governance of Secondary School Rugby?
Schoolboy rugby is essentially governed by schools themselves who are elected board members to local College Sport organisations and the New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council (NZSSSC). Schools pay a fee which goes into a collective pool to support operations, additionally trust funding is provided.
The New Zealand Secondary Schools Rugby Council (NZSSRC) is supported by NZSSSC and New Zealand Rugby (NZR), but is largely independent of NZR. The NZSSRC runs the National Top Four. If NZSSRC sided with the ten schools boycotting St Kent’s and refused to allow St Kent’s entry to the National Top Four qualifying tourney St Kent’s could launch a human rights case on the basis exclusion. However in 2015, Rotorua Boys’ High School won the National First XV championship, but were demoted to last in Super 8 because the rules regarding player eligibility were different in each competition.
Could a centralized authority with robust selection criteria be better placed to govern schoolboy rugby. Shouldn’t rules on player eligibility, competition structure and the like be consistent across the country to ensure clarity and fairness?
The head of St Kentigern College David Hodge claims he has a letter from a senior NZ Rugby staffer endorsing St Kent’s rugby program. If so does this have potential to colour any outcomes of their ongoing review into secondary schools rugby?
The Long Bay College Open Girls team finished ninth at last year’s Condor 7s, and they return to the tournament this weekend as recent North Harbour champions. We caught up with the team ahead of the tournament this coming weekend.
Team: Long Bay College Open Girls Rugby Sevens Team
Founded: Long Bay College was founded in 1975. The school vision being Personal Excellence for Global Success.
Dene Vosloo (Captain) – (Jersey No: 10 – Year 13)
Dannidee Dreyer – (Jersey No: 5 – Year 12)
Faith Underwood – (Jersey No: 2 – Year 12)
Georgie Carroll – (Jersey No: 9 – Year 11)
Hannah Corkill – (Jersey No: 3 – Year 10)
Holly Skinner – (Jersey No: 13 – Year 13)
Jenna Over - (Jersey No: 6 – Year 13)
Jessica Heath – (Jersey No: 11 – Year 13)
Kara Sheerin – (Jersey No: 4 – Year 11)
Latisha Trigwell-Achmad – (Jersey No: 8 – Year 11)
Mila Matson – (Jersey No: 14 – Year 11)
Phillipa Henderson – (Jersey No: 12 – Year 13)
Renee Haywood - (Jersey No: 1 – Year 10)
Sammy Speak – (Jersey No: 7 – Year 12)
Coach: Kevin Parslow
Manager: Teresa Underwood
The Long Bay College Open Girls Rugby Sevens team has had a successful year of rugby in 2018, with the team going undefeated in the Harbour Sevens tournament and winning the final against Massey High School. This was the school’s maiden win, after finished second on four previous occasions.
In July, the team was invited to the Griffin’s Invitational Rugby Sevens Tournament in Noumea, New Caledonia. The team only had one loss to the eventual winners of the tournament and came away asthe Plate winners. During the tournament, the girls played a team from the island of Lifou who could not afford mouth guards and many players did not have boots. In the spirit of rugby, the Long Bay College girls went into town after the first day of play and purchased mouth guards and boots for the team. The Lifou team was exceptionally grateful of the gifts and gave a blessing to the Long Bay College Girls.
The Long Bay College 10-a-side team, of which all the Sevens team are part of, convincingly wonthe North Harbour Championship against Rangitoto College in a thrilling final (54 to 12) at QBE Stadium prior to a Mitre 10 Cup game.
The team motto is Control the Controllable.
Ten of the Long Bay College players have played for North Harbour in either Sevens or 15-a-side this
Phillipa Henderson won 2018 Harbour Player of the Year at the recent North Harbour Rugby Awards. Jessica Heath has recently participated in the Red Bull Ignite 7 tournament for the quest to find the next Black Ferns Sevens superstars.
As a school, the Long Bay College Girls Rugby programme has been so successful due to the coaching of Kevin Parslow and his ongoing passion to promote Girls Rugby. The school currently has 22 U15 girls who are training which will further build the team for the future.
Long Bay College are in Pool L on the first day of the Condors, along with St Mary’s College (Wellington), Gisborne Girls’ High School (Poverty Bay) and Opotiki College (Bay of Plenty).
Their games on the opening day are:
10.10am Long Bay College v Gisborne Girls’ High School (field 4)
12.10pm Long Bay College v St Mary’s College (field 1)
2.10pm: Long Bay College v Opotiki College (field 3)
PHOTOS: Credit to Donald Allison-Carnie and Kevin Parslow for images in this story.
Westlake Boys' High School are the most dominant rugby school on the North Shore having won the North Harbour 1A First XV championship 15 times since its inception in 1985.
Additionally Westlake are the present North Harbour senior and U15 sevens champions and have won the first U15 National Condor 7s title in 2015. The National Condor 7s for both age groups happens next weekend at Sacred Heart College in Auckland and Westlake has strong teams in both divisions.
Motto: Virtute Experiamur - Let Courage Be Thy Test
Roll: 2000 (Plus)
Most Recent All Black: Dillon Hunt, 2018
Most Famous Sevens All Black: Nick Evans
Westlake didn’t enter the tournament last year, but finished a credible 9 th in 2016. Westlake is a young team building for the future with 9/12 players either Year 11 or 12. The leader of the side is very much First XV captain and senior volleyball player Tiennan Costley. The Blues U18 selection has exceptional skills combined with abrasiveness on defence and an instinct for the line. Westlake is grouped with Waikato runners up St Peter’s Cambridge, National Top Four First XV runners up Napier Boys’ High School and Taranaki champions
New Plymouth Boys’ High School.
North Harbour Sevens Results
Pool: Albany Senior High School, 42-5
Pool: Northcote College, 50-0
Pool: Massey High School, 17-7
Semi-Final: Orewa College, 24-12
Final: Takapuna Grammar School, 22-17
Westlake has a strong history in the U15 tourney, winning the first event in 2015 after finishing third last year, improving three places from 2016. Westlake won the North Harbour U15 qualifying tournament and are hopeful of National success with an experienced squad consisting of four Year 11 students and eight Year 10 players. Some of the players to watch include:
Caleb Tangitau – Promising skill and obvious speed. He is a player to watch throughout the
tournament with his ability to ignite the game and score unbelievable tries.
Peti Tavui – Strong ball runner and huge work rate. Enjoys the physical confrontations and
can evade defenders with a good turn of pace.
Etienne Piere – The stepper and speedster in the team as well as being a hearty defender.
Clayton Kozte – A workhorse forward.
Sam Charlesworth – An Auckland surfing champion who is adept in the tackle and serves as
one of the key leaders in the group.
North Harbour U15 Sevens Results
Pool: Rangitoto College, 60-0
Pool: Kaipara College, 26-5
Pool: Rosmini College, 27 – 7
Semi Final: Massey High School, 31-0
Final: Takapuna Grammar School, 43 – 5
St Peter's College's Niko Jones has signed a NZRU All Blacks Sevens contract.
Jone joins four other players on the contracted list including former Whangarei Boys' High School player and athletics thrower Scott Gregory.
Newcomers Gregory and Jones are the latest of New Zealand’s emerging rugby talent to choose the sevens pathway.
“This year was a perfect example with Etene Nanai-Seturo and Salesi Rayasi playing a year of sevens before picking up Investec Super Rugby contracts. Scott and Niko are outstanding young athletes and its exciting to see what they might be able to achieve in this form of the game, said All Black Sevens coach Clarke Laidlaw.
“Our job is to develop these young men on and off the field; both have big futures ahead of them,” said Laidlaw.
Read more about Niko Jones here
Hamilton Girls’ High School rose to the top of the secondary girls rugby tree again, winning the Hine Pounamu Top 4 Trophy for the first time since 2015 on the back of winning last December’s Condor Sevens.
But in an increasingly competitive girls rugby landscape – both in 15s and 7s rugby – there are more contenders putting their hands up to challenge in the future. Following the Top 4, the New Zealand U18 Girls team won gold at the Youth Olympic Games, while a number of schoolgirls made their debuts in the Women’s NPC Farah Palmer Cup competition.
Our contenders are below for our fourth annual Champion of Champions series – vote in the poll - scroll down below.
Glory Aiono and Ana Mamea – Aorere College – Chosen together in this list, Aiono and Mamea were Aorere College’s two standout players at the Top 4 tournament. Playing lock and loose forward, they impressed with their damaging ball running and helped Aorere come back from an opening day defeat to Hamilton GHS to beat Southland in their second game to finish third. Both then played for Counties-Manukau in the Women’s NPC competition, both appearing in all eight matches for the Heat. Aoino played the last four matches including the final in the starting XV while Mamea scored two tries on debut against Waikato and then scored two tries in the Premiership final against Canterbury.
Carys Dallinger – Manukura – The Manukura fullback produced the individual performance of the Top 4 tournament in early September, scoring three tries and setting up two more against Southland GHS. Her pace and skill helped propel Manukura to their maiden final, in which they lost to rampant winners Hamilton GHS. Previously, Dallinger had been a key player in Manukura beating last year’s Top 4 champions St Mary’s College 38-33 in the Hurricanes region decider. Dallinger was one of four Manukura players in this year’s Manawatu Cyclones squad and made three Women’s NPC appearances including two starts at fullback. She subsequently joined her Manukura teammate Kalyn Takitimu-Cook in the gold medal-winning NZ U18 Youth Olympic Games team.
Tiana Davison – Sacred Heart College, New Plymouth - Hard work paid off this year for Sacred Heart’s sports prefect Tiana Davison when she returned to New Zealand in October with a gold medal around her neck. Davison and the New Zealand U18 Sevens team rallied to beat France in the Youth Olympics final. Started playing rugby aged three and captains her school sevens and fifteens team, and plays for Clifton on the burgeoning Taranaki competition. A high work rate and a committed defender. Nominated as a Taranaki Senior Sportswoman of the year.
Amy Rule – Aparima College - The Head Girl of her school in Riverton played for Winton’s Central Southland College this year in the local school competition and played club rugby for the Blues Club. Otago Spirit coach Scott Manson (a former prop) picked the specialist tighthead prop in Otago’s squad and she played six matches including two starts against Counties Manukau and Tasman and 25 minutes off the bench in the Championship final against a blockbusting Wellington team.
Montessa Tairakena (Hamilton Girls’ High School) - Montessa, who switches comfortably between halfback and wing, was a nightmare for all opposition this year. She started the year in try-scoring mood at the Sir Gordon Tietjens 7s in Palmerston North. At Hamilton Girls she helped he First XV complete an unbeaten season and back in Palmerston North she scored three tries in the National Top Four semi-final and two in the decider. Even better was to come at the Youth Olympics in Argentina where Montessa helped New Zealand win their first ever goal medal - scoring a try in the 15-12 victory over France in the final.
Who would be your Girls First XV Player of the Year? Vote in the poll below
2017: Grace Brooker (Christchurch Girls’ High School)
2016: Rina Paraone (Kaipara College)
2015: Ayesha Leti-L'iga (Porirua College)
The Champion of Champion series is not intended to be a definitive list of the ‘best’ athletes in each code, rather it celebrates many of the leading athletes and teams in each that College Sport Media has followed this year. Preference has gone to those individuals/teams that CSM has interviewed and profiled in 2018. Got a story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Then there were 50.
A group of the country’s leading players have been invited to attend the New Zealand Under 20 development camp in Palmerston North in December.
Players selected to attend the camp from 3-8 December are listed below.
Players unavailable for selection due to Super Rugby and Sevens commitments are: Etene Nanai-Seturo (Counties Manukau), Kaleb Trask (Bay of Plenty), Leicester Faingaanuku (Tasman), Billy Proctor (Wellington), Caleb Clarke (Auckland), Scott Gregory (Northland) and Jeriah Mua (Bay of Plenty)
The 50 players have been selected from the National Provincial Championship, the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Under 19 tournament and New Zealand Secondary Schools team.
After December’s camp players will return to their provincial unions with many set to be involved with Super Rugby development or age grade programmes.
Players will reassemble in March before a squad of up to 32 players will be selected to play in the Oceania Championship in Australia in April.
The final squad for the World Rugby U20 Championship, to be played in Argentina, will be named in May.
The New Zealand Secondary Schools extended their unbeaten run to 16 games in a row, but St Peter’s College, Auckland and the New Zealand Maori Under-18 teams produced huge upsets in their respective campaigns in another big year for rugby.
Our contenders are below for our third annual Champion of Champions series – vote in the poll - scroll down below.
Iona Apineru (St Patrick’s College, Silverstream) - The head prefect of St Pats Silverstream showed his leadership on the rugby field throughout 2018 helping Silverstream successfully defend their Premiership title and extend their unbeaten record in the local competition to 22 successive games. Apineru, a robust flanker, scored a vital try in the final and then earned selection for the New Zealand Schools’ where he was the vice-captain in the 26-12 win over Australia in Brisbane.
Louie Chapman (Christchurch Boys’ High School) - The diminutive halfback led Christchurch Boys’ High School to the National Top Four for the first time since 2014, passing 50 games for the First XV and impressing with his superior leadership. Christchurch defended the UC Championship and won the Moascar Cup for the first time since 2007. Chapman was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ team. Chapman was also a member of the Christchurch BHS First XI cricket team that won the national title.
Niko Jones (St Peter’s College) - The son of All Black great Sir Michael Jones showed dad’s talent runs in the family with a stellar 2018. Jones was captain of the First XV which won five knockout games in a row by a combined margin of eight points to capture the Auckland 1A and National Top Four titles. In the National final, St Peter’s was down by 0-21, but Niko set up two tries and scored one himself in a man of the match display. Jones was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ tour of Australia starting in the annual test against the Junior Wallabies, his kick creating the Kiwis second try.
Blair Murray (New Plymouth Boys’ High School) - The fleet-footed fullback suffered injury in the early part of the season, strongly returning at the Chiefs Under-18 trial to earn a place in the New Zealand Secondary Schools team. While in Australia, Murray was a standout player scoring two tries against the Australian Barbarians and then winning the Bronze Boot award as the best player in the annual Australian test match.
Terrell Peita (Mount Albert Grammar School) - The No.8 from the Te Rarawa Kaiwhare tribe was a standout in an otherwise disappointing MAGS First XV in 2018. MAGS only won three games in 1A, but Peita was so highly respected he was selected to captain the New Zealand Under-18 Maori team who stunned the Barbarians Schools in October and then toppled Fiji in a campaign that achieved well above initial expectations.
Who would be your Boys First XV Player of the Year? Vote in the poll below.
2017: Rivez Reihana (Saint Kentigern College)
2016: Brayden Iose (Palmerston North BHS)
2015: Josh Buchan (Otago Boys’ High School)
The Champion of Champion series is not intended to be a definitive list of the ‘best’ athletes in each code, rather it celebrates many of the leading athletes and teams in each that College Sport Media has followed this year. Preference has gone to those individuals/teams that CSM has interviewed and profiled in 2018. Got a story? Email email@example.com
Current and recent school players featured in the squads, from left: Niko Jones (St Peter's College), Rosie Kelly (Christchurch GHS), Lincoln McClutchie (Hastings BHS) and Renee Savai'inaea (St Mary's College). Photos: Andy McArthur.
Nationally ranked sprinters, provincial netballers, age-grade AFL stars, and New Zealand Secondary Schools rugby representatives are among the 96 players named to take part in the inaugural Red Bull Ignite7 event this November.
New Zealand Rugby (NZR) today unveiled the 48 men and 48 women who have been selected to take part in a new high-performance programme designed to uncover the next generation of sevens superstars.
More than 500 applicants from Invercargill to Kerikeri signed up for an event that will see three men and three women win the chance to train with the All Blacks and Black Ferns Sevens squads in 2019.
Among the women’s players selected are a pair better known for their provincial netball feats in Renee Savai'inaea and Mererangi Paul, former New Zealand Universities hockey player Grace Steinmetz, and Taranaki women’s senior basketball guard Iritana Hohaia.
The ranks of the men’s squads include 2017 New Zealand Under 18 AFL Player of the Year Carlos Donnell-Brown, New Zealand’s second fastest senior 400m runner Thomas Woods, former junior Warriors rugby league fullback Mark Graham, and 2018 New Zealand Secondary Schools loose forward Niko Jones.
NZR High Performance Sevens Manager Tony Philp said the selection process had provided a valuable and encouraging glimpse into New Zealand’s untapped pool of athletic talent.
“We were absolutely thrilled with the quality and variety of athletes who came forward and that made it a tough group to select,” Philp said. “It’s a very diverse group in terms of their backgrounds and sporting talents and it’s going to be interesting to see how quickly they can transfer those skills to sevens at the highest level.”
Philp and his team of selectors have split the players into eight squads (four men’s and four women’s) for the event, with Team Power, Team Surge, Team Inferno and Team Bolt competing for the inaugural Red Bull Ignite7 trophy.
The teams are:
Carlos Spencer was emphatic when stating the 2005 victory by the New Zealand Maori over the British and Irish Lions was the most satisfying game of rugby he ever played.
In a glittering career which included multiple domestic titles and 35 tests for the All Blacks, Spencer's Maori experience was a high point.
What’s unique about Maori rugby and is it relevant today?
An upset win by a National Maori Under-18 selection against the New Zealand Barbarian Schools at Jerry Collins Stadium, Porirua recently seems to suggest there is plenty of life left in Maori rugby.
Jack Gray (Ngāti Whakaue) started at fullback in the Barbarians game and shares some personal and collective sentiments before and during the Barbarians fixture.
“Leading into the game you could tell how much the boys had to play for and what it meant for Maori rugby and Maori in general. The coaches have been fighting to have a team for years so for us to win was pretty special. I’ve never been in a team where that’s been the case. It definitely felt like the game meant more to us than the Barbarians,” he said.
Gray’s late father Wayne Gray was a Maori All Black, but Jack concedes he had little prior knowledge of his heritage before selection.
“Maori hasn’t been a big part of my life so I was surprised to be picked. Getting up to do Hui Te Marama at 530am on frosty grass isn’t something I’ve experienced before. We learned a lot about our ancestors and how tough it was for them. A lot of them were sent to war and didn't come back. We’re lucky, when we go to war on the field we get to go home afterwards.”
Rua Wanoa is the current coach of the NZ Maori U18 team and reflects on the genesis of the age group concept.
“That 2005 Maori All Black victory over the British and Irish Lions was the high point of Maori rugby. The whole crowd stayed behind to applaud the Maori All Blacks afterwards and that doesn’t happen very often. Unfortunately things fell away after that. In 2010, Maori rugby celebrated the Rau Tau centenary and that was the catalyst to try and revive things again.”
The New Zealand Maori Board identified Maori youth as a group to target and a coherent plan to develop Maori talent took shape. Maori reps have two votes on the New Zealand Rugby Board.
Presently Provincial Union Maori age grade teams attend regional Maori tournaments. Players selected from these tournaments advance to attend Northern, Central and Southern regional under-18 camps in April. In July 40 players are chosen to attend National camp before finally being selected into the National team in September.
The U18 Maori team itself played their first game in 2016 in Rotorua against what was supposed to be a Bay of Plenty representative selection, but instead was a poorly selected and weak Bay of Plenty Maori outfit. The National Maori won a slaughter 103-0.
New Zealand Rugby appears to have an ambivalent relationship with the Maori. Funding and fixtures have increased, but this year’s Maori team news was absent in New Zealand Rugby’s official communication around the schoolboy international series.
The Maori it appears are in a constant battle to prove their worth. In 2017 a narrow defeat to the Barbarians was followed by a somewhat unconvincing 38-26 win against Tonga. Club Rugby reported:
“New Zealand will be relieved to win, but the real story is Tonga who have delighted and surprised their supporters with infectiously positive, organized and aggressive play. Tonga was assisted in the coaching department today by All Black Vaea Fifita while the Maori had at least half a dozen staff many of whom appeared to be doing little.”
It was clear standards had to be lifted in 2018. A theme built around the metaphors of Rangatira and Ariki-tanga was established for the camp. Essentially Rangatira is an individual of high rank and as high performance athletics each player looks to emulate the behaviours, traits and standards of a Rangatira. Ariki-tanga is about rising to an even higher level, Wanoa elaborates.
“Were all on the same waka which travels better with everyone in unison. If the coaches swear they do sit ups just like the players do. There were no phones in the dining room to encourage being together, little things like that which make us better all round. Were about respect and honour which are universal themes.”
Embracing Mauri was another key idea. A mauri is a material symbol of a life principle, a physical object used by an individual or social group expressing their essence. Each player shares what’s most important to them and together these forces are connected like a jigsaw for the good of a common cause.
The team’s headquarter at Mana College, Wellington were surrounded by imaginary of legendary Maori chiefs, activists, politicians and rugby players such as Sir Āpirana Ngata reinforcing the desire to rise to Ariki-tanga.
Loose forward Terrell Peita (Te Rarawa Kaiwhare) from Mount Albert Grammar School was an obvious choice for captain.
“I have always been around our culture and it’s customs. I was schooled at Te kura Kaupapa Māori o Puau Te Moana nui-a-kiwa when I was young and then went to Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Tonga o Hokianga a small local school in the heart of Whirinaki. It wasn’t until I moved back to Auckland I started learning more about my mainstream side,” Peita reveals.
Maori rugby is actually very mainstream in the New Zealand schools environment with 21 of the 53 players selected in the original New Zealand Schools development camp boasting some Maori heritage.
Interestingly though there was only one private schoolboy selected for the Maori squad and Bailey Gordon (Western Heights High School), Nikora Broughton (Hato Paora College) and Samuel Walton-Sexton (Karamu High School) were all selected from institutions hardly recognised today as powerhouses.
Capturing some of this untapped talent is invaluable and the Maori deliberately visited the Hurricanes U16 tournament while at camp to support the struggling East Coast against Wairarapa-Bush. At one stage in the second half the Coast were reduced to 13 players by injury, but battled on gamely to complete the match.
For their courage, East Coast won the Manaakitanga Trophy - presented in 2010 by Gisborne artist and associate professor Steve Gibbs - for the first time. It is an award that recognises team culture and sportsmanship. The presence of and the haka performed by the National Maori squad might prove inspirational for some of the battling Coast boys.
“This team is very unique, a lot different to the Barbarians and New Zealand squads,” Peita explains.
“We do a lot of physical conditioning but from a Māori perspective. That included games such as Ki o rahi and Mau rākau. We stay on a Marae and also pray and sing a lot of songs together.”
The task of putting together a rugby team is challenging at the best of times, but how does one ensure the cultural building side of things is not just mere lip service? What is done about the boy who rolls his eyes?
Assistant coach Kahu Carey (Rangitane, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō):
“First and foremost were here to develop a good rugby team, but we’ve got 25 future fathers at camp so if we can imbue them with a little bit about what it means to be a good Maori and a good citizen then win or lose I think we’ve done our job.”
Peita with the final word:
“The bond created on this camp is something as Maori that just happens because of what we do and how we all cooperate as Rangatira. We were and are still a very tight group. We keep in touch via social media so I guess that speaks a lot for itself.”
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