Who is the best First XV in New Zealand schoolboy rugby? The answer to this question will be resolved at the Rugby Institute in Palmerston North this Sunday when the 34th annual tourney occurs. Here is a breakdown of the four contenders.
Blues - Mount Albert Grammar School
Mount Albert Grammar School went 17-0 the season they last attended and won the National Top Four in 2010. Hurricanes lock Michael Fatialofa was the captain. MAGS won their 23rd 1A title this season taming Sacred Heart College 15-13 in the final. MAGS was the only team to beat Sacred Heart this season. In 13 1A games MAGS scored an impressive 75 tires.
MAGS are spearheaded by a huge and mobile pack, but have the backs to play expansively to. Key players include: Robert Cobb (prop), Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa (lock), Isaiah Papalii (openside/midfield) and Niven Longopoa (fullback). Papalii scored 12 tries in 1A, Longopoa 11. MAGS record in all games this season reads: 17 wins, 1 defeat, Points scored: 688, Points Against: 144.
Chiefs - Hamilton BHS
Since 2003, Hamilton have won 242 out of 288 games, including the National Top Four on four occasions. Hamilton didn't win the Super 8 for the first time since 2011, but won the Chiefs Cup and battled past St. John's College (32-29), New Plymouth BHS (36-10) and Rotorua BHS (26-24) so they are definitely the strongest team in their region. Hamilton have won 18 out of 22 games and that includes a five-match tour of the UK.
Hamilton is a well balanced team, but lacks the potency of former sides. Still expect nothing less than a very competitive showing. Hamilton's key players include: Austin Pepperell (Prop), Quinn Tupaea (centre), Rameka Pohipi (10/12) and Patrick McCurran (No.8).
Hurricanes - Hastings BHS
Hastings BHS have been a rampant juggernaut this season. They have won all 17 games and their closest win in 2016 has been a 22-7 victory against Gisborne BHS at the Rectory, historically one of the hardest places to win in First XV rugby. Hastings beat Wellington College 40-14 in the Hurricanes final, but led 33-0 after 40 minutes.
Hastings have an abrasive and dynamic forward pack and serious speed out wide. They are extremely clinical at set-piece and especially dangerous on turnover ball. Folau Fakatava and Lincoln McClutchie combine beautifully at halfback and first-five, fullback Danny Toala is a livewire and an accurate goal-kicker. He has slotted 17 goals from his last 21 attempts while prop Kianu Kereru-Symes and No.8 Devan Flanders are among the leaders in the forward pack.
South Island - Southland BHS
The last time Southland Boys' won the South Island title and advanced to the National Top Four finals was in 2003.That day captain and prop Jamie Mackintosh scored three tries as Southland Boys' beat Christchurch Boys' 25-15 in the 2003 final.
Current co-coach David Hall was also part of a Southland BHS team to play in the national top four tournament. Hall's coaching partner, Peter Skelt, was the SBHS first XV coach in 1997 when Hall played in the top four finals in Auckland.
Can Southland become the first team since Christchurch BHS in 2006 to win the big dance?
Southland's overall record of 13-7 suggests they are only an average side, but Southland are far from it. They went 7-6 in the Dunedin Premier Colts competition which features several 21-year olds and 80 minute matches. Otago lost two games in the last minute at the National Top Four in 2015 playing in the same competition. Southland won their interschool matches convincingly against Otago BHS, Waitaki BHS, King's HS and John McGlashan College. Last Saturday Southland trounced Christchurch BHS 41-20 at Straven Road, despite the fact it was 24-20 in the second-half.
Southland boats a tough forward pack, but Southland isn't short of backs who can sparkle. Their key players include: Flynn Thomas (hooker), Kaleb Talamahina (fullback), Logan Jones (No.8) and Jay Renton (halfback).
Friday 2 September
1.10pm - Mount Albert GS vs. Southland BHS - Televised
2.55pm - Hamilton BHS vs. Hastings BHS - Televised
Sunday 4 September
National 1st XV Championship – Finals
1.10pm - Play-off for 3rd and 4th
2.55pm - Final Televised
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