A clean sweep last year means St Paul’s Col­le­giate start the 2015 sea­son as the team to beat in the Cen­tral North Is­land com­pe­ti­tion. DANIEL RICHARD­SON re­ports.

NZ Rugby World - First XV - - CON­TENTS -

The Cen­tral North Is­land com­pe­ti­tion con­tin­ues to prove it is a worth­while ad­di­tion in the First XV land­scape.

The chas­ing pack is af­ter St Paul’s Col­le­giate School in the Cen­tral North Is­land com­pe­ti­tion. The tour­na­ment, which moves in to its fourth edi­tion this sea­son, is gen­er­ally a tight­ly­con­tested af­fair but St Paul’s made a mock­ery of that last year. The Hamil­ton school went through the eight-team com­pe­ti­tion un­beaten and breezed past Fran­cis Dou­glas Me­mo­rial Col­lege 32-14 in the fi­nal. Five teams emerged last year as the fron­trun­ners and St Peter’s School from Cam­bridge were the un­lucky side to miss the semi­fi­nals. Lind­is­farne Col­lege and Feild­ing High School were the beaten semi­fi­nal­ists. The com­pe­ti­tion be­gan in 2012 as each school had a mu­tual in­ter­est in find­ing more com­pet­i­tive games hav­ing blown out their lo­cal op­po­si­tion, aside from the big, rugby-minded boys schools. The play­ers have also gained fur­ther ex­po­sure due to in­creased tele­vi­sion cov­er­age and rep­re­sen­ta­tive coaches have spot­ted the tal­ent. “It gives the boys an ex­pe­ri­ence be­yond their pro­vin­cial stuff and lo­cal com­pe­ti­tions but it also al­lows them to be seen,” Fran­cis Dou­glas coach Tim Stuck says. “It’s good to see boys from our comp mak­ing Hur­ri­canes and Chiefs and New Zealand rep sides.” Many of the schools are sim­i­lar in the makeup of their stu­dents and tend to be un­der­sized com­pared with other col­leges but play an ex­cit­ing brand of fast-paced rugby. St Paul’s will be led by hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho who is aim­ing to make the New Zealand Se­condary Schools side this year. Fran­cis Dou­glas, who have brought back six play­ers from last sea­son’s squad, in­clud­ing fron­trow­ers Bren­don Dent and Luke Drav­itzki, will be lead­ing the charge to knock St Paul’s off their perch when the com­pe­ti­tion starts in June. “We are not huge but we’ve got a lot of ticker and we are rugged,” Stuck says. Lind­is­farne, who won the com­pe­ti­tion in 2012, want to move the ball around more this year com­pared to pre­vi­ous sea­sons and new re­cruit James Law­son should help the out­side backs. The Hawke’s Bay school also have plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence in their for­wards.

Lind­is­farne usu­ally be­gin their sea­son by meet­ing lo­cal sides be­fore tack­ling the Cen­tral North Is­land com­pe­ti­tion.

“It’s per­fect for our school,” coach Ben Spriggens says. “We tend to take a while to get in to the sea­son.”

Feild­ing High School, de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons in the na­tional co-ed com­pe­ti­tion, have goal-kick­ing half­back Tom Ste­wart and hooker Chris Cairns ready to make an im­pact.

St Peter’s will look to their mid­field of Matt Mauai and Jack Foster to pro­vide the go-for­ward af­ter a host of play­ers from last year’s side have left.

Coach Sean Hoh­neck says the com­pe­ti­tion pro­vides a great spring­board for his play­ers to de­velop.

“We are all of rea­son­ably sim­i­lar abil­ity, which means the games are al­ways tight,” Hoh­neck says.

Wan­ganui Col­le­giate have changed their coach­ing setup this sea­son with Karl Hoskin and Te Ahu Teki tak­ing over.

Col­le­giate have a young side but with a re­newed fo­cus on rugby wash­ing through the school, they’re shap­ing to be a con­tender in com­ing sea­sons.

St John’s Col­lege didn’t fire a shot last year as they lost all seven games and will need to im­prove this sea­son, along­side Rathkeale Col­lege who won only one from seven in 2014.

Lind­is­farne will be­gin the sea­son with the Rick. T. Fran­cis Me­mo­rial Shield, which is up for grabs in any game, home or away, ex­cept the play­offs.

Fran­cis, who passed away in 2012, was an in­stru­men­tal fig­ure in the rise of rugby at Feild­ing High School and was well known through­out the cen­tral North Is­land.

Mean­while, re­cruit­ment re­mains a dirty word in the com­pe­ti­tion with few schools happy to dis­cuss how they in­evitably have a cou­ple of new play­ers turn up on their ros­ter ev­ery year.

Each coach is keen to point the fin­ger around the com­pe­ti­tion but the fact re­mains that it’s a com­mon prac­tice.

“Any school that takes rugby semis­e­ri­ously does it,” one coach says.

DI­RECT HIT Asipeli Ma­fua’taimi takes off on a run.

right: NEAR THING Fran­cis Dou­glas made

the fi­nal last year

left: UN­DER STICKS Lind­is­farne score a wel­come five points.

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