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?
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