OTAGO AND SOUTH­LAND

NZ Rugby World - First XV - - CON­TENTS -

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.

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