“We’ve got a group of experienced boys who have stayed together for a while now and that are a big part of our success,” Cullen Grace enthuses when asked to explain the success of Timaru Boys’ High School rugby in 2017.
The South Canterbury outfit made the UC Championship final for the first time since the inception of the competition in 2001 and have just added a maiden Canterbury Secondary Schools sevens title to their roll of honour.
In the final of the Canterbury qualifier, Timaru overcame St Bede’s College 29-24, but their course to Condors wasn’t all plain sailing.
“We were in a tough group and lost to Christchurch Boys’ High School. We avoided Christchurch in the final. They were beaten by St Bede’s in extra time in the semis which was a surprise.” Grace reflects.
Timaru’s additional wins over St Andrew’s College, Cashmere High School and Shirley Boys’ High School ensured a second trip to Sacred Heart, Auckland for the YouthTown National finals. Timaru made their debut last year and finished a lowly 23rd. Grace believes that experience will help Timaru in a fortnight.
“The speed and size of the North Island boys was a bit of a shock, but I think we will be better prepared for that this time. We have been working pretty hard and have most of last year’s team back,” he says.
The Timaru team who won the Canterbury title was: Grace, Tevita Eukaliti, Melvin Pauni, Sione Lolohea, Brad Cvitanich, Hamish Dunbar, Harry Bampton, George Brown, Maka Mafileo, Jimmy Robertson, Ryan Greenslade and Shane Fikken.
Only Tevita Eukaliti didn’t appear in the 2016 Timaru roster, but Grace is adamant the Tongan will made a big impact.
“Tevita is one of the quickest guys in the team. He was a real standout at the Canterbury Sevens. Were not a team of big names, but we work hard for each other and Tevita can really go,” Grace acclaims.
Grace is a player who achieved critical acclaim in 2017. Grace toured Australia with the New Zealand Secondary Schools team and played the entire match against the Australian Barbarians which was won 49-6.
He is a key winner of kick-offs and lineouts in sevens and enjoys the chance to roam a little wider than usual. Grace’s leadership is also pivotal. He has been the captain of both the fifteens and sevens squads for two years. Is his approach different in each code?
“Not really. “It’s pretty much the same, except everything happens quicker. I try to lead by example,” Grace responds.
Timaru is grouped alongside Manurewa High School, Western Heights High School and 2016 runners-up Feilding High School. This pool appears to be one of the most even at the tourney.
In 2018, Grace will head to Lincoln University in Christchurch on a rugby scholarship, He will study a Bachelor of Science.
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