First XV Rugby always throws up an abundance of new talent to admire, but here are 10 names to keep an eye on in First XV rugby nationwide this season (actually 11 for good measure). This is not a definitive list – and is alphabetical order:
James Arscott (Otago BHS) - In recent times Otago has a fine history of producing quality halfbacks with Josh Renton and Tim Hogan both earning selection for the New Zealand Schools. Arscott, a transfer from Roncalli College, could replicate the efforts of Renton and Hogan with a top season.
A swift pass, coupled with a solid boot and sound grasp of tactics, makes Ascroft a fine acquisition for Otago. Arscott was a real standout in a Roncalli team that only won once in 14 games last year, snapping a 42 game losing streak.
Carys Dallinger (Manukura) - Manawatu’s Manukura are a team on the rise in girls 15s rugby as well as sevens, and shape as one side that could stir the pot later this year. To get to the Top 4 they will have to win the Hurricanes region final and most likely defeat defending champions St Mary’s (see below). Carys Dallinger is a fast, skilful midfielder in the longer form of the game and has proven hard to put down. She is a natural leader of her side and she will have only grown in confidence with her recent involvement in the New Zealand u18 Schoolgirls sevens team.
Dhys Faleafaga (St Mary’s College) - Was the first female nominated for the Sky Sport Player of the Year after a series of blockbuster performances at either No.8 or second-five for first time National champions, St Mary’s College. Faleafaga is a bruising defender and commanding carrier and has already appeared for the Wellington Pride senior team.
Niko Jones (St Peter’s College, Auckland) - The son of great All Black Michael Jones, Niko used to play prop, but has switched to No.8 where his hard running and defence will be invaluable for St Peter’s. Niko made the Blues U18 camp last year.
Isaiah Punavi (Saint Kentigern College) -When Christ’s College beat Christchurch Boys’ High School for the first time in 16 years last season Punavi was hoisted onto the shoulders of his schoolmates and carried triumphantly from the field. Will Isaiah have a similar impact in Pakuranga?
Punavi burst onto the scene in 2015 scoring 16 tries in the UC Championship. Last year he earned selection for the New Zealand Schools and was arguably the best of the backs in Australia.
A leader with pace and power, Punavi presents a major threat to any opposition. NZ Schools first-five Rivez Reihana and Blues U18 lock and son of All Black Eric Rush, Robert Rush are among others to watch in a typically stacked St Kent’s team.
Jack Rose (St Andrew’s College) - The former loose forward converted to prop in 2016 and enjoyed ground-breaking success earning selection for the Crusaders Knights U18 camp where he made the reserves for the Hurricanes match in Wellington, playing the entire second-half. Rose can cover both sides of the scrum, but prefers loosehead because of the more aggressive nature of that position. Rose’s confrontational approach helped St Andrew’s win their centenary match against Christ’s College last season.
Montessa Tairakena and Jazmin Hotham (Hamilton GHS) - This pair cleaned up the Condor Sevens won by Hamilton Girls’ in December and are equally dynamic in the fifteen- a-side game. Hotham is smaller and quicker whereas Tairakena is a bully with searing pace. Both girls were on fire at the Sir Gordon Tietjens 7s in March and a bound to feature prominently in various rep squads.
Liam Udy-Johns (Hastings BHS) - The Hurricanes' U18 development squad member has been appointed skipper of the National Top Four championship holding First XV. A tireless defender and dependable lineout target, Udy-Johns wasn’t the flashiest member of Hastings all-conquering class last year, but he was one of their most valuable.
Keelan Whitman (St Pat’s Town) - Tall and athletic with an obvious ‘presence’ on the field, Whitman can cover lock or loose forward and will look to seek higher honours than his NZ Maori U18 selection last year. Keelan’s older brother Grayson Whitman made the Samoa Under-20’s in 2017 and plays senior football in the capital for Marist St Pats.
Josh Southall from St Pats Silverstream is another loose forward to monitor. He made the New Zealand Schools tour as a Year 12 openside.
Drew Wild (Feilding HS) - In March College Sport Media reported after the Sir Gordon Tietjens 7s: “Drew Wild was the player of the tourney. Resolute on defence he was the creative catalyst for champions Fielding.”
Wild is also a capable fifteen aside player who swaps easily between first-five and fullback and kicks goals. Only small in stature, but quick on his feet and deceptively strong, Wild has been a key ingredient in Feilding reaching the National co-ed top four final for the past two years, winning the title in 2016.
Above: Montessa Tairakena running in a try for Hamilton Girls' High School at the recent Sir Gordon Tietjens 7s tournament.
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