The unusual nature of St Peter’s season was best exemplified by an absurd incident en route to the National Top Four in Palmerston North. Niko Jones captures the drama.
“We pulled up on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere because there was snow on the ground. Most of us Polynesians have never seen snow before so we rushed off the bus in bare feet and started a snow fight. We were giggling like schools girls. It was the funniest thing.”
St Peter’s was a team with a habit of defying conventions and Top Four weekend was no exception.
“That was honestly one the best weeks I’ve had. I remember meeting the boys from Rangiora on Saturday, most of whom were Pakeha. When our Poly boys started singing they all joined in. They were really gracious and cool,” Jones enthused.
Song, brotherhood and what Jones called “street rugby” are distinguishing features of St Peter’s triumph.
“We weren’t a picture prefect team. We had guys who would turn up late, would fall behind the eight ball during games, but we had a lot of raw talent and a licence to express ourselves. When we got on a roll it was a lot of fun,” Jones explains.
At times Jones appeared to be picture perfect talent. The inspirational skipper was the only member of the team selected for the New Zealand Schools’ - starting in the 26-12 win against Australia in Brisbane. However, Jones was plagued by an ankle complaint throughout much of the year and admits he often leaned on others for support.
“The senior leadership group were all experienced players and the first guys I’d approach if I had a problem, but everyone was a leader at some point. Semisi Tapa was a big talker while guys like Zyon and Chris led by example with their actions.”
Jones personal philosophy to captaincy is simple.
“I try to lead by example in all facets. I like to get involved with the ball in hand and try and use my speed and power to carry effectively. I try to inspire with both my actions and words.”
Jones said clarity and confidence combined with an innate trust in one another proved to be a formidable combination.
“I’ve played with most of these boys since Year 7. I think that made a big difference in the tight games. We enjoyed a strong brotherhood and though we weren’t always professional we had a lot of faith in each other.”
The faith of the team was most tested during defeat. Heading into the 1A semi-finals, St Peter’s hadn’t beaten the three sides above them.
“I knew we had the ability to do great things, but we had to get meaner. Our mantra was to attack and defend like wolves and we weren’t doing that,” Jones reflects.
“After we lost to King’s we beat Auckland Grammar which is huge for us. The first time we played St Kent’s I thought we played alright, but a few things went against us. We were the better team against Sacred Heart, but let that one slip.”
After the near stumble against Westlake in the Blues Regional Final, Jones said St Peter’s was at their resolute best against Hamilton Boys’ in the Top Four semi-final.
“The Hamilton game was our best performance of the season. When you look at schoolboy rugby in the last decade Hamilton has been the benchmark, consistently the most successful team. We were really hard-nosed on defence and managed to win the physical battle.”
“The wind was unbelievable. AJ and Sam controlled things really well given the conditions.”
Conditions appeared to be stacked against St Peter’s in the final, but Jones was reassuringly calm at halftime.
“We talked about having fun. It was more serious than that, but we knew if we could get the rub of the green and get on a roll that things could turn and they did which was awesome.”
Jones second half try collecting a lineout fumble at halfway and striding clear provided the Saints with a lead they never lost.
“It happened very quickly. I got the ball from the lineout and instinct took over. I beat a few playing with an instinctive fend. It was only when I was clear I realised I still had a long way to go,” Jones laughed.
Dave Thomas was in awe of what he witnessed.
“I’ve never seen anyone single-handedly dominate a game like Niko did in the Top Four final. There’s always been a lot of pressure on Niko because he’s the son of the great Sir Michael Jones. Last season Niko Jones established himself as Niko Jones. He was always respectful, positive, calm and energetic.”
Typically Jones would expend his energy on a Sunday at church where he is actively involved in his Kelston community parish.
“I try and help out as much as I can. I teach at Sunday school, help set up, help tidy up. I do anything I can to contribute.”
After being crowned national champions church was out on September 9, but some churchly restraint remained. There were no snowy shenanigans on the way home.
“It was one of the quieter rides of the season actually,” Jones confirmed.
“It was surreal in that there was a huge sense of relief the job was done. Sure there was jumping and singing, but I think the guys were just happy in a more reflective way than usual.”
St Peter’s arrived back to Auckland at 2am Monday morning. A few hours later Niko sat a Cambridge exam. He is presently in Tauranga with the New Zealand Sevens program.
St Peter's College will soon head to Japan to represent New Zealand at the Sanix World Rugby Youth Invitational tournament. College Sport Media has helped the school produce a book documenting their extraordinary season which can be purchased by following this link. The book features match reports, stats and profiles with the team:
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