The article below was first published on College Sport Wellington in early August 2023.
When the Hutt International Boys' School (HIBS) First XV rugby team had a goal setting session on an Australian pre-season tour in Cairns in March many players in the squad were doubtful reaching the Premiership was a realistic goal.
Essentially the entire backline from 2022 had departed and a lack of size in the forwards was a major concern.
On Saturday HIBS qualified for the Premiership semi-finals for the first time in their history. A bonus point in a 12-14 loss to St Pat’s Town was enough to secure fourth place with a 5-4 winning record.
HIBS went within a whisker of toppling Town. Ahead 12-0, they conceded two converted tries in the last five minutes.
"I didn't see the game ending how it did," HIBS captain Tom Devery said.
"We were confident during the week we could beat Town and our defensive effort was outstanding but credit to Town they regrouped and responded when they had to.
"We had our chances and there is no one to blame but ourselves."
Honesty has been at the heart of HIBS season. The team nickname themselves 'The Battlers' with their gritty resolve discovered in Cairns.
"We played a couple of games against a Cairns Invitational XV stacked with bigger league boys. It was a real test of our defence, and we had some pretty intense fitness sessions in the heat," Devery said.
"Australia was massive for all of us. We built a culture, confidence and purpose that has served us all season."
HIBS comfortably won their grading games to reach the Premiership. Early success against St Bernard's College and Rongotai College paved the way for the historic semi-final push.
"St Bernard's has been a make-or-break game for us the past couple of seasons and we've dropped it twice. Beating them was a big mental and physical relief," Devery said.
"Rongotai was the same thing. We know we're not the biggest team, so we back our fitness to attack the edges and really attack the rucks especially late in the half to try and cause disruption."
Devery is a quality No.8 with excellent distribution skills and the ability to be dominant on defence. Those attributes will be required to topple top of the table Scots College in the semi-finals this weekend.
Despite a brilliant early try to first-five Sean Carter, HIBS was soundly beaten.
"I feel the score didn't reflect how close the game really was. Their No.8 Harry Irving is a really talented player and they've got some big boys who are hard to stop if they get a role on. We are going to have to knock them over and back ourselves on the edge," Devery theorised.
Tom's dad, former Wellington Lions lock and loose forward Richard Devery is HIBS head coach.
"It's pretty awesome having Dad as coach. He brings a lot of knowledge and though sometimes you wish rugby was left at rugby the conversations never stop. Mum loves it too."
HIBS: The Road to the semi-finals:
· Round 1: Bear St Bernard’s College 11-7
· Round 2: Beat Rongotai College 8-7
· Round 3: Beat Tawa College 34-15
· Round 4: Lost to St Pat’s Silverstream 48-0
· Round 5: Lost to Scots College 65-21
· Round 6: Beat Mana College 44-3
· Round 7: Beat Wairarapa College 33-21
· Round 8: Lost to Wellington College 5-0
· Round 9: Lost to St Pat’s Town 14-12
Premiership Semi-Finals this weekend (both matches at 12.30pm)
· Scots College (1) v Hutt International Boys’ School (4)
· St Pat’s Silverstream (20 v Wellington College (3)
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