"We didn't execute anything in the second-half. We couldn't catch and pass. We couldn't get out of our 22. It was some of the worst rugby we have played this year," George Witana complains when reflecting on the performance of the Sacred Heart College 1st XV on Saturday.
How the hell did they manage to topple defending champions St. Kentigern College then?
Mighty St. Kent's who have only lost four 1A games since 2011 and who had beaten Sacred Heart eight times in a row.
"Pure guts and a bit of luck. We really dug deep in the second-half. Our defence was outstanding and the senior players really stood up," Witana acclaims.
Sacred Heart played with the wind in the first-half and built a handy lead at the interval. Dynamic loose forward Hoskins Sotutu, the son of former Fijian international Waisake Sotutu, scored a try and halfback Ben Engels (4 penalties, 1 conversion) punished St. Kent's ill-discipline with some accurate goal-kicking. Sacred Heart played for territory and backed the muscle of their defence.
"Jack McHugh our openside was outstanding. He’s a really good player who will definitely push for higher honours this year. He works really hard and won a lot of turnovers," Witana says.
Witana is a first-five and has played representatively for Auckland at U14 and U16 level. His tactical kicking forced St. Kent's into retreat as Sacred Heart's confidence soared.
"There is a lot of belief in this team. I think the senior players have learned a lot from the disappointments of last year and to get the St. Kent's monkey off our backs is huge. We celebrated like we had won the championship, but were determined to make sure this is not a one-off."
The final score was 19-16 to Sacred Heart who it should be noted have been in the 1A semi-finals four times in the past five seasons.
In 2011 Sacred Heart topped the round-robin, held the Moascar Cup and won 19 out of 21 games before succumbing to eventual National Champions Kelston BHS in the semi-finals.
The following year Sacred Heart won 11 out of 15 games and St. Kentigern, the eventual National Champions, beat them 22-21 in the semi-final.
In 2014 Sacred Heart boasted Daniel Tupou, beat eventual National Champions Scots College 43-0 and won 16 out of 20 games, but again St. Kentigern denied them in the semi-finals as they did last year, a season which yielded 13 wins in 17 games.
In 2016 Sacred Heart have additionally beaten St. Paul's Collegiate, Otago BHS (a top four side in 2015) and accounted for Dilworth College in the first round of 1A. It's an impressive start, but is Sacred Heart peaking too early again?
"I hope not. We are working harder and smarter than before and setting higher expectations. We are learning all the time and not getting too far ahead of ourselves," Witana insists.
Witana is the embodiment of high standards. The head prefect has achieved excellence in NCEA Levels 1 and 2, is a prominent member of the Kapa Haka group and was premier waterpolo captain.
Waterpolo is Witana's other sporting passion. He has represented Auckland and New Zealand at age group level. He says waterpolo and rugby really complement each other.
"Water polo is great for anaerobic fitness and it’s really physical. It keeps you in the good shape for rugby."
Sacred Heart's water polo has been in great shape recently. They have been Auckland premier champions for six consecutive years, North Island champions five times in the last six seasons and in 2013 and 2014 they added National honours to that legacy as well. In 2014 Sacred Heart was unbeaten and outscored their opponents 352 goals to 84!
"Water polo is an interesting sport in that it's really close. This year we won theAuckland title, Auckland Grammar won North Island's and Rangitoto won Nationals. Anyone can beat anyone on the day. We were disappointed not to win Nationals, but we had a good season and Rangitoto deserved it," Witana reflects.
St. Kentigern College were runners up at Nationals. The rivalry between the two schools is just as intense as it is in rugby.
"I think the competitiveness of the water polo is great and not dissimilar to rugby. Our home games are played at the school pool and they pack out. Because it's indoors it's really loud so you can hardly hear each other speak," Witana enthuses.
Sacred Heart feature on Land Rover 1stXV Rugby on May 28 against Kelston BHS.
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