Southland Boys' High School have been South Island First XV champions for the past two seasons and have produced more All Black captains than any other school in New Zealand.
Despite this pedigree, Southland is struggling to find opposition. The geographical isolation of Invercargill is an obvious challenge, but how does captain Sean Withy explain seven of Southland’s first ten games in the Dunedin Premier Colts competition will be away from home?
“I guess it's one of those things we’ve got used to. It's not ideal, but there's no local competition so we just have to wear it,” Withy responds.
Several clubs have refused to travel to Boys’ High, leaving Southland with a five hour return trip most Saturday's. Withy describes the typical routine.
“We usually gather at 8:30am and hit the road by nine. We travel in minivans and mix the groups up to keep things varied. We try and arrive at least 40 minutes before kick off to warm up and then play the game before going home.”
Sometimes an after match happens, but Southland aren't exactly Otago rugby’s best friend.
“It's good rugby for us. It's physical, competitive lasting 80 minutes which gives as an advantage when we play school teams,” Withy observers.
Southland haven't lost to Otago Boys’ High School in the annual traditional fixture for three years. This year the game ended in a 14-14 draw with the openside flanker scoring a try.
"It wasn't spectacular. We built some phases with pick and goes close to their line and when a defender rushed up, I managed to slip through,” Withy recalls.
In 2017, Withy played in Southland’s 13-12 victory over Otago on Land Rover First XV rugby. He described his team as “hard working,” but rues missing some chances in the recent Otago clash.
"It was pretty even as it always is, but I felt we had slightly more possession and territory, leaving some points on the field which was disappointing.”
Withy has been to the Highlanders development camp and hopes to join the likes of Mils Muliana and Paul Henderson as a prominent rugby personality from the college.
The only school with comparable travel demands to Southland is Gisborne Boys’ High School who played their first eight games on the road this year and at least three hours away from the famous Rectory Field. Others like Timaru BHS and Nelson College often travel vast distances to, but in a structured school competition at least get more regular home games.
“We usually find out on Thursday if we're at home or have to travel again. Some of the guys fall asleep, others watch devices or sing and joke. We get by,” Withy concludes.
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