Christ’s College First XV was at its lowest ebb in 2015 when embarrassed 80-0 on national television by fiercest rivals Christchurch Boys’ High School. Soon to be All Black Will Jordan scored four tries while Christ’s supporters sarcastically chanted ‘we want your coaches.’
That summer the cleanout was swift. New coaches, new players and a new culture was installed. Christ’s topped the round robin of the then UC Championship in 2016 - beaten in the semi-finals by Timaru Boys’ High School.
In 2018 another milestone in the cultural shift of the First XV occurred when a new haka was introduced. It was composed by Wiremu Gray, school counsellor and wellbeing facilitator for Māori youth in Christchurch.
Entitled ‘Te Kura Karaiti’ the haka symbolises the coming together of the school family by paying homage to school heritage, values and culture. It challenges the boys to rise up, warning opponents that Christ’s love their team and school.
This Saturday Christ’s travels to Trafalgar Park to tackle Nelson College in the Myles Toyota championship First XV final. Christ’s haka will be led by loose forward and recent Maori Under-18 selection Hendrix Taylor (Ngāti Kahungunu).
“I’ve led the Haka for two years and for me it is a huge privilege,” Taylor says.
“I’ve been involved in Kapa Haka and though I don’t speak Maori the culture is a big part of my identity. I want to learn more about it. We practice the haka hard. The boys enjoy doing it. It’s important.”
Greater backbone and substance has been a feature of Christ’s rugby since 2016. They have made the semi-finals or better five times in the past six seasons and this year knocked over top qualifier St Bede’s College to earn a place in the decider.
“That was one of our top games. It was tight to start with but then we went down two tries. We got stuck in and it got close in the second half. We fixed a couple of things, played tight, and got the win.”
The outcome of the St Bede’s match was the opposite of the first meeting with Nelson College which also doubled as the annual Quadrangular Tournament final.
Christ’s was ahead 20-3 at halftime with all three tries scored by wing Jack Belcher happening the same way. Remarkably Nelson rallied to win.
“I don’t know what happened. Maybe we dropped our guard a little which you can’t do against a good side like Nelson. They’ve got some big boys and used them well.
Three of the last six matches have been decided by two points or less with Nelson winning on four occasions and Christ’s twice. Since 2016 Christ’s have won 64 competition matches and Nelson 63.
The storied rivalry between the schools stretches back to 1925 and the beginning of the Quadrangular Tournament. In those games Nelson has enjoyed 31 wins, Christ’s 25 with four draws.
Taylor attended an Area School in Year 9 before moving to Rangiora High School the following year. In 2019 he was offered and accepted a scholarship to Christ’s.
“My dad Johnny really encouraged me to take the scholarship. Christ’s has been the best decision for me. It was a bit of a shock when I first arrived with the discipline and all that.
“Christ’s has helped me do better academically and we're so lucky with our coaches and resources.”
This First XV is coached by former Hurricanes and Crusaders lock Ross Kennedy, All Black Sam Broomhalll and 2018 Tasman National Winning Sevens captain Sam Chamberlain.
“They’ve got a lot of experience and pride. You respect people more when they’ve been there and done that.
“I’ve typically been a loose forward. I like to carry and hustle on defence even though I’m not the biggest guy.
“In the reps I’ve been playing a bit of hooker. I’m only six-foot whereas other guys are a lot taller. I like hooker. It suits my style.”
A highlight of any season is the ‘College match’ against Christchurch Boys’ High School. This year Christ’s won 35-34.
“It’s a great experience with the whole school going crazy and good competition. We were up 18-10 at halftime and then Boys’ High got a couple of lucky tries. Our captain and lock Johnny Lee scored a try from a charge down. That was crucial.”
Christ’s has never won a Crusaders First XV championship title. They lost the very first final in 2001 to Christchurch Boys’ High School. In 2018 they drew 18-18 against the same opponent - cruelly denied glory because of the concession of one more try.
“We go up to Nelson on Friday and will be well prepared. We have to stick to our game plan which is good set-piece, having a crack if it’s on, and shutting down their big men. It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got belief.”
Nelson College has won the title in 2007 and 2019. Captain Ollie Inch (12) and lock Hunter Leppien were involved in that game. New Zealand Barbarians flanker Netani Baleisomosomo is a major threat.
The final kicks off at midday on Saturday.
The New Zealand Secondary School U18 Māori side will take part in a game of three halves with the New Zealand Schools’ and Barbarians squads. A yet to be confirmed fixture is likely to be played in October.
Interview and story by Adam Julian, for College Sport Media, September 2021.
Crusaders First XV Championship last three finals:
2018: Christchurch BHS: 18 v Christ’s College: 18
The first drawn final was an epic tussle influenced significantly by the wind. Christ’s enjoyed its strength in the first-half and after two minutes second-five Shin Miyake kicked a 47-metre penalty to put Christ’s on the board. He followed that success with a penalty from halfway to double the score after a quarter of an hour.
Christchurch attacked sporadically and Cullen Moody missed a penalty out in front before Christ’s broke through and scored a try through George Coull, converted by Miyake to make it 13-0. Moody kicked a penalty just before halftime and Christchurch turned ten points down.
Christ’s attacked early in the second-half with no reward. Christchurch rallied and Corban Harding scored after 46 minutes to make it 13-8, Christ’s Coull played a blinder and in the 51st minute secured his second try in the corner to stretch Christ’s advantage 18-8. Miyake’s conversion started wide right and then came back with the wind and hit the post!
Christchurch regrouped and a try to Thomas Shmack, unconverted by Moody, set up a tight finish at 18-13. Sam Darry was captain of Christ’s on the day. The talented, lock has since played Super Rugby for the Blues. His memory of the final minutes, are vivid.
“Play went back and forward for about ten minutes before Boys’ High broke through and Ryan Barnes scored out wide in the 67th minute. Thankfully Cullen’s kick sprayed left and he missed again to make it 18-18 with three to go. We kicked off and regained the ball through Amlaoibh Porter. We rumbled up field through forward runners. This was a deliberate plan to reduce risk of error and negate the wind. We got to the 22 before passing it back to Kurtis Weeks who tried a drop goal from 22 out in front. Unfortunately, the wind caught the ball and it fell short. Christchurch regained possession and got a penalty. We were offside. They kicked it out to end the game and win because they scored more tries. I’m really proud of the way the boys played that day. It was an epic match.”
2019: Nelson College: 35 v Christchurch BHS: 31
Nelson won their first title since 2007 overhauling a halftime deficit to topple Christchurch BHS on a muddy home field. Nelson scored 24 consecutive points in the second half, with captain Anton Segner highlighting his enormous potential by scoring two tries in a man of the match performance. The openside flanker has since played for the champion Taman NPC team.
Christchurch made the perfect start by going 18 phases from the kick off before scoring through prop Sam Frame.
The play was initiated by impressive second-five Keegan McGregor who had a hand in three of his team's tries, including one he scored himself from an inception inside the first 10 seconds of the second half.
Nelson caught fire with a passionate and precise forward display.
Niko Barton finished with 15 points for Nelson, nailing six of his seven attempts at goal. That contribution proved valuable as Christchurch outscored Nelson five tries to four. Connor Johnston and Daniel Rogers also crossed the stripe for the victors.
2020: St Andrew’s College: 35 v Christchurch BHS: 26
St Andrew’s College won their first title but initially that appeared unlikely. Campbell Burnes reported:
After early tries to hooker Charlie Baker and centre and co-captain Callum Simpson, it appeared that Christchurch’s big match experience – 14 finals in 20 years – was going to again tell. The breeze was also in its favour.
But STAC’s comeback emanated from a bustling try to centre Isi Saumake, the first of a brace to the hard to stop No 13. The STAC pack, led by lock Jamie Carr, son of the late All Blacks logistics manager Kevin ‘Chalky’ Carr, rolled its sleeves up and brought total commitment to its endeavors, offering no respite to its more highly touted counterparts.
STAC fullback Jack Forrest showed a good step to edge his side in front five minutes into the second stanza. Christchurch clawed its way back onto the final, and was at 26-28 when STAC sub Conor Newton raced 55m to score between the uprights after a ruck turnover to cement the win.
STAC’s bench offered full impact and there were emotional scenes at fulltime as the STAC supporters were in full voice during their haka.
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