OTAGO AND SOUTHLAND
Schoolboy rugby in the Highlanders region has been rocked by Otago Boys’ decision to play senior Colts.
Between 2011 and 2014 Otago Boys’ High School won 54 games in a row in the Highlanders First XV competition. Except for Southland Boys’ High School, Otago defeated most opponents with embarrassing ease.
It’s little surprise then that Otago have withdrawn from the Highlanders competition and joined the Premier Colts Under 21 competition.
The Premier Colts grade features 10 teams who play more than two full rounds. Coach Ryan Martin explains the advantages of Otago returning to their former stomping ground.
“The Colts grade is physical and to compete with the leading North Island schools’ we need harder rugby. We expect stiff competition from the Dunedin Makos, Southern Magpies, University Blue and Taieri,” says Martin.
Martin was captain of Otago Boys’ when they shared the National title with Rotorua Boys’ High School in 1998. Otago played in
After dominating the Highlanders competition these last few years, Otago Boys’ have decided to withdraw and play instead in the Premier Colts competition. ADAM JULIAN reports on what that means for schools rugby in the region.
the Premier Colts competition that season and lost three games.
So what does Otago’s withdrawal mean for the rest? A dogfight over the precise structure of a competition.
On February 27 a meeting was held by Otago Rugby that featured nine schools: South Otago High School, King’s High School, John McGlashan College, St Kevin’s College, Waitaki Boys’ High School, Dunstan High School, Kavanagh College, Mount Aspiring College and Taieri College.
Together they determined they would play in a competition which would commence on ANZAC day, the first Saturday in term two.
The draw for the competition took place after this issue went to print but was expected to possibly include a couple of Under 18 club teams to make up the numbers.
The likely structure of the competition is a round-robin series followed by semifinals and a final.
The exact path to the national boys’ and co-education Top Four tournaments has yet to be determined, but it’s likely that some sort of playoff will occur and will feature Otago and Southland Boys,’ historically the strongest rugby colleges in the region.
There are five Southland schools in the Highlanders region; Southland Boys’ High School, Menzies College, James Hargest High School, Gore High School and St Peter’s College (Gore).
At present there is no competition for Southland schools. What are the options?
Participation in local club competitions seems most likely at present with a playoff for Top Four places at the end of the season.
Southland Boys’ High School coach Mark Ozich concedes: “Our preference was to stay in the [Highlanders] competition, but with Otago Boys’ withdrawing we have to investigate our options of which we have a couple.
“We can play in the local colts competition or attempt to expand our midweek interschool programme.”
Ozich says there are “cost considerations”
that need to be factored in with the second option and Otago Boys’ withdrawal establishes a “dangerous precedent.”
Ozich says: “I understand Otago’s reasons for withdrawing, but what would happen if Westlake withdrew from the Harbour competition or the strongest schools in their respective competitions start withdrawing en masse?”
Is there a prospect in the South Island of a competition similar to the Super 8 in the North Island? Ozich says that’s an “interesting concept” but dismissed it as “pie in the sky stuff.”
King’s High School, one of the leading rugby schools in Dunedin, have a new coaching staff. Mark Alderton and Johnny Simmons take the helm with an entirely new tight five. New Zealand touch representative Taylor Haugh is a familiar face, but otherwise King’s are looking forward, not backwards.
Alderton says: “It’s been frustrating organising the competition, but we have to move on.”
In 2012 Waitaki Boys’ High School made the final. In 2013 three of their leading boys ended up at Otago Boys’.
Otago Boys’ relative resources are formidable when compared with the rest and their ambition is commendable. However what is the price of a win at all costs mentally when the rest of the region suffers? How can other schools catch up? Should there be stricter regulations on recruiting players, that thorny subject which is the biggest elephant in the room in college rugby?
The future of rugby in the Highlanders region depends on answering these questions with an open mind absent of self-interest.
high hopes John McGlashan College have a strong side.
Above: soaring high Otago BHS take clean lineout ball.