Mānawa means to give everything until the last beat of your heart. It’s a mantra embraced by the St Thomas of Canterbury College First XV. Few have actioned the concept better in 2021 than captain Jack Coulthard. The cheerful, articulate and inspirational flanker is on the cusp of leading St Thomas into their maiden Miles Toyota Crusaders First XV Premiership semi-final.
With two bonus points, or a draw, against top of the table St Bede’s College on Saturday, St Thomas will qualify. Ironically Coulthard wanted to go to St Bede’s.
“I was looking at going to St Bede’s even though my brother went to St Thomas,” Coulthard revealed.
“I was persuaded to come to St Thomas by Mr Hart. I wanted to play rugby and I could see he was passionate about it. There were talented boys everywhere and I could tell they were building something.”
Steve Hart has been principal of the Catholic boys’ school for four years. His sales pitch wasn’t just bluster. In his first year at the college Coulthard was a member of an undefeated team.
Rowing, league, and basketball would soon distract the talented teen. Rowing helped build strength and fitness in the summer - Coulthard, good enough to win a bronze medal in the South Island rowing championships. League is a sport with historical appeal at St Thomas and Coulthard caught the bug helping the Halswell Hornets win a local grand final and representing the South Island Scorpions. In basketball he was a Canterbury age group representative.
“I was a tall kid so I started as a lock. My parents got me into rowing where I discovered how unfit I was. I was just a tall guy running around like a headless chicken. Rowing helped me develop a better mentality with my fitness. I really liked basketball, but in Year 11, I really decided to focus on rugby.”
Recovery from a broken collarbone and residing behind First XV skipper Kole Harmer meant 2020 was somewhat bitter-sweet for Coulthard.
“I got a few games but spent most of the time learning from Kole because he was in my position. Kole is phenomenal. He set really high standards. We had some amazing individual achievements in 2020, but we didn’t share the common mindset so our overall result was disappointing.”
St Thomas won five games in the Miles Toyota Championship in 2018, a tally they have improved on every year since. In 2020 they won eight games and this year they have nine wins. Last season they defeated eventual champions St Andrew’s College 23-14 but finished eighth. Despite winning more games than Shirley Boys’ High School and Nelson College, in sixth and seventh respectively, St Thomas was six points adrift of the top four.
Old Boy and former All Black hooker Mark Hammett is coach. The present Director of Rugby is Johnny Leo’o, involved in coaching at the college since 2016. He is a health/science teacher and Pasifika advisor too.
Leo’o is a proven winner. The flanker played 71 games for Canterbury and won two National provincial titles and the Ranfurly Shield. In 48 games for the Crusaders he was a part of three Super Rugby winning teams. From 2007 to 2014 he played for Racing 92 in France helping the former strugglers gain promotion to the lucrative Top 14. He selected Coulthard as his captain.
“It was a pretty big honor to be named the captain. The key to being a good leader is not to be a traffic cop. I bark a few ideas and try to inspire the boys, but we have to all share a common goal.
“We're trying to change the mentality of being an underdog school to being a school with a target on our backs. We have the right mindset, players, facilities and coaches to beat anyone.”
There is no such thing as an easy game against St Thomas anymore. Their three defeats this season have been by a combined margin of 13 points against St Andrew’s and two top four sides Nelson College and Timaru Boys’ High School. Both Christchurch Boys’ High School and Christ’s College have been tamed.
“The win against Christchurch was my highlight of the season so far. We beat them by 40 points a couple of years ago but this year it was a real dog fight. They scored first and then we scored and they scored. They got two tries ahead, but we won right at the death and were bloody ecstatic.
"We had the school storm the field and parents in tears. It was an unreal feeling, like no other.”
Last Saturday St Thomas was forced to rally from a mile behind to topple Christ’s. Two tries from Coulthard helped get the job done.
“Christ’s are a well-drilled team and had a strong wind behind them in the first-half. We weren’t good on defence though and went to the break 25-7 down. We got two quick tries in the second-half and then an intercept to lead 31-25. They hammered our line for the last 10 minutes and well into extra time. We did crack, but luckily they missed the kick. It’s only the fourth time in our history we have beaten Christ’s.”
The number of teams at St Thomas has increased from eight to 10 and the vast majority of the First XV will return in 2022. The school roll is 630.
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