Mid-table has an all too familiar ring to it for Whanganui Collegiate School rugby supporters.
The First XV has had five consecutive sixth placed finishes in the Central North Island (CNI) competition, but there are promising signs that the school can improve this year and push for a top finish in the competition that kicks off in just under a fortnight.
Last year Whanganui Collegiate made the final of the Quadrangular Tournament for the first time since 2004, beating Nelson College 19-13 – which was their first win in 22 matches at the quad stretching back to 2006.
Last week Whanganui Collegiate broke another duck stretching back to 2004 – beating New Plymouth Boys’ High School. At the famous Gully ground no less.
New Whanganui Collegiate First XV Head Coach Steve Steve Simpson was pleased with the school’s 32-26 win.
“We scored six tries to their four and we only managed one conversion, so it could have been more if our kickers had been on form,” said Simpson.
New Plymouth started the match with a try in the second minute, but Whanganui bounced back with three first half tries to lead 15-7 at the break.
The second half was tit for tat and a New Plymouth try with 15 minutes to play had Whanganui head 22-21. Whanganui’s Harry Godfrey latched on a loose ball and ran 50 metres to score to make it 27-21.
Now inside the last 5 minutes, New Plymouth scored again to cut Whanganui’s lead to 27-26, before Whanganui No. 8 Semi Vodoese drew in several defenders in a powerful burst before offloading to Joe Abernathy who ran hard for the corner and passed inside to the supporting Beau Hourigan who scored the match-clincher.
This win came off the back of a recent tour to Sydney.
“We had four matches in Sydney and we won three of them,” said Simpson.
“We played games against Newington College, Saint Ignatius' College, Riverview, Trinity Grammar School and Waverley College.
“The team we lost to was Waverley College, who was Australia’s representative at the recent Sanix World Schools tournament in Japan. They made the semi-final.”
Last year’s Top 4 champions St Peter’s College, finished runners-up to South Africa’s Paul Roos at the same tournament.
Simpson has taken over coaching the team this year with Mark Godfrey, after the pair had coached the school’s U15s for the past two seasons.
Previously, he was at Francis Douglas Memorial College for nine years up to 2013 before a three-year stint working and coaching in England.
So the recent win at the Gully carried extra meaning for Simpson.
“I had a win for Francis Douglas at the Gully when the match was on Sky Sport in 2012 – so for me it was great going back with another team and winning again.”
New Plymouth Boys’ High School play in the strong Super 8 competition, which kicks off later this month.
Whilst at Francis Douglas, Simpson coached some well-known players.
“I coached all five of the Barretts. When we flew to Sydney recently I bumped into Jordie and Beaudy and Du Plessis Kirifi and Ricky Riccitelli at the airport. They had just flown up from Dunedin from playing the Highlanders and we were heading over to Australia.”
In the first year of CNI, Francis Douglas were second to Lindisfarne College and in 2013 they won it, beating St Paul’s Collegiate in the final.
This year, Whanganui Collegiate have two scheduled pre-season traditionals against Te Aute and Hato Paroa Colleges over the next two Wednesdays (although at the time of publishing this the Te Aute College match is likely to match to be re-scheduled following a death in the Te Aute rugby community) before opening their CNI campaign away against Wesley College on Saturday 18 May. Wesley joined CNI in 2016 and as yet Whanganui hasn’t beaten them.
Some other CNI matches double as traditional fixtures – including against Francis Douglas on Queen’s Birthday Weekend in New Plymouth - while they will be heading to Wellington College from 1-3 July to play in the 93rd annual Quadrangular Tournament.
Whanganui Collegiate will be playing the host school in the first match, while Christ’s College and Nelson College will meet in the other on the opening day. Whanganui haven’t won Quad since 1991.
Simpson said that the Whanganui squad is well-balanced this year, with nine players returning from 2018.
“We have got a good forward pack and some exciting backs, so we feel we have got potential in our squad. Against New Plymouth, we scored six tries and I took Francis Douglas to the Gully a few times and we never scored that many.”
Blindside flanker Henry Kilmister returns to captain the team, while returning hooker Ben Strang is the vice-captain and No. 8 Semi Vodosese offers punch in the forwards.
Second five-eighth Ta Atawhai Mason and fullback Beau Hourigan, who scored two tries against New Plymouth, are two backs to look out for.
Many of the players have come off a cricket season with the Wanganui Collegiate First XI, while one is a Maadi Cup rower and others have been involved in the school’s strong athletics programme in recent years.
Ben Strang (V Capt.)
Henry Kilmister (Capt.)
Te Ana Profitt
Te Atawhai Mason
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