Canterbury secondary schoolgirl rugby players Rosie Kelly and Grace Brooker are both hoping to make their fifth and final seasons in the Christchurch Girls’ High School rugby team memorable ones.
Both players were selected in the Canterbury Women’s Sevens squad as year 12s at the end of last year and both subsequently travelled to the Provincial National Sevens in Rotorua where they finished sixth out of 11 teams. Grace has also just been selected in the Canterbury Women’s Women’s NPC squad to contest the Farah Palmer Cup, while Rosie is part of the wider training squad.
Rosie and Grace are two of just four year 13 players in a youthful CGHS 26-player squad.
CGHS have qualified unbeaten for the final of the UC Cup Crusaders Girls competition next Wednesday night, where a win against the combined Burnside High School – Rangi Ruru Girls’ School side would see them likely face off against defending national champions Southland Girls’ High School on 26 August for qualification for the National Top Four tournament in Palmerston North.
Rosie is CGHS’s captain and is a specialist halfback, and she has the best halfback in New Zealand women’s rugby to aspire to. “I know Kendra Cocksedge pretty well, so it’s good to watch her play and learn off her.”
Canterbury halfback Cocksedge is starting at halfback for the Black Ferns in their Women’s World Cup opener against Wales on Thursday and played a starring role in their recent home series against England, Australia and Canada. Like Cocksedge, Rosie is also a goal-kicking halfback.
Grace is CGHS’s vice-captain and plays two positions. “I play openside flanker for my school team and fullback for my club team,” she explained.
Rosie and two others from the school team have been playing for the High School Old Boys club in Christchurch on Saturdays, who CGHS are closely aligned with. HSOB Rugby Director Jamie Livingstone is also their school head coach, while former Canterbury Women’s NPC players Anna McCone and Dahlia Kilkelly are also school team coaches.
“We just had our semi-finals and lost to Christchurch, so we finished fourth,” explained Grace. “They have Canterbury players such as Pip Love and Steph Fox playing for them.”
Heading into the UC Cup final on 16 August, CGHS have won all eight games, scoring 497 points and conceding 119. Rosie and Grace have scored just under half those points between them.
Rosie has scored 134 points, scoring 16 tries and kicking 27 conversions, while Grace has scored 102 points including 20 tries and one conversion.
Other players of note in the CGHS team include Jaidyn Busch (year 11), the National Junior Shot Put Champion last year and a powerful No. 8 and Canterbury School Girls player in 2016 and Naia Toaolamai (year 10), a utility back, with plenty of speed and rugby knowledge and a player for the future.
If they win the UC Cup - and with Tasman’s Mouteka High School just concentrating on sevens - CGHS will gain the automatic qualifier’s berth from the Crusaders region to play the winner of the Highlanders region on 26 August for the right to contest the Top Four national tournament in Palmerston North.
That is likely to be Southland Girls’ High School, the defending national champions. “I last played Southland Girls’ when I was in year 9 and not many girls in our team have played them before, although we have played them in sevens,” said Rosie.
Both the team’s leaders are boarders and deputy head prefects at school and both have been playing rugby for as long as they could pick up a ball and run with it.
“I’m from Hokitika. I moved over from the West Coast for sport, with more opportunities over here,” said Rosie. “I started playing rugby when I was four and followed my older brother into the game. In primary school I played everywhere in the backs and then settled at halfback.”
“I’m from Oxford and have been playing since I was little as well,” said Grace. “My whole family is involved in playing rugby except for my mum but she was my coach.”
After the fifteens season finishes, CGHS will turn their sights on the shorter format. “We will probably start training for sevens at the end of this term,” said Rosie. “Condors is our aim again. We have a Friday night sevens competition that starts in term four and we have to qualify for Condors.”
Last year, CGHS made the top eight of the Condors tournament, losing to Southland Girls’ High School 5-32 in the Cup quarter-finals. They then went on to beat Tauranga Girls’ College 17-10 in their Plate semi-final before losing to Howick College 5-26 in the Plate final.
This year CGHS will run two sevens squads in the local competition, with an eye on building depth developing younger players to carry on the mantle once Rosie and Grace and others move on.
There are also the inaugural New Zealand Secondary Schoolgirls U18 trials coming up in October which Rosie and Grace are training for. Molly Simpson and Lucinda Hutchinson from CGHS will also be trialling along with 10 others from the Crusaders region.
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