NO MAR­GIN OF ER­ROR

De­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Hamil­ton Boys’ High School only have one player re­turn­ing. CAMP­BELL BURNES isn’t sure that will make them as vul­ner­a­ble as their ri­vals hope.

NZ Rugby World - First XV - - CON­TENTS -

Hamil­ton Boys’ High School will once again be the team ev­ery­one is chas­ing in the Su­per 8.

Aquick glance at the 2014 Su­per 8 re­sults tells you all you need to know about the par­ity in this well es­tab­lished First XV com­pe­ti­tion. Other than games in­volv­ing New Ply­mouth Boys’ High School, which had a dif­fi­cult sea­son, there was just one blowout.

It has of­ten been the way since Su­per 8 was es­tab­lished in 1998, cater­ing for the top rugby schools from Hamil­ton to Palmer­ston North, all of them boys’ es­tab­lish­ments, and all of them steeped in tra­di­tion.

The Su­per 8 is unique in that it com­bines cul­tural and sport­ing ex­changes and in­volves even more travel than the old Press Cup.

The pre-em­i­nent Su­per 8 First XV, hav­ing won eight of the last nine ti­tles, is Hamil­ton Boys’ High School, na­tional cham­pion in 2013 and co-cham­pion in 2014.

But there will be sev­eral chal­lengers for their ti­tle in 2015 – there is a fi­nal, for only the sec­ond time, af­ter a se­v­engame roundrobin – and not the least be­cause there is just one starter back for Hamil­ton BHS from the Top 4 de­cider.

“It’s a record we’re re­ally proud of when you con­sider the strength of the schools. We don’t take that for granted,” says Hamil­ton BHS coach Nigel Hotham. “The com­pe­ti­tion just gets stronger. Our whole plan­ning for the year is based on do­ing as well as we can in Su­per 8.”

So who will con­tend in 2015? Tough call to make in March, but the two fi­nal­ists from 2014 – Hamil­ton BHS and the peren­ni­ally strong Palmer­ston North BHS – will surely be chal­leng­ing, while an ex­pe­ri­enced Ro­torua Boys’ High School look set to fire.

Gis­borne Boys’ High School rarely have a weak side and are build­ing nicely, while Tau­ranga Boys’ Col­lege, un­der the guid­ance of the canny Ja­son Spice, will fancy their chances of mov­ing up the ta­ble. Napier BHS were sixth in 2014, but pulled off a fine 31-16 win over Ro­torua. There may be an­other year of de­vel­op­ment for New Ply­mouth BHS af­ter their 2014 tra­vails, while the drums are beat­ing for the resur­gence, which ac­tu­ally started in 2013, of Hast­ings BHS. That over­view sounds like real fence-sit­ting, but the com­pe­ti­tion is ac­tu­ally that tight.

Palmer­ston North BHS coach Blair van Stipri­aan has no doubt how good the Su­per 8 re­ally is: “If you look at the Top 4, there is con­sis­tently a Su­per 8 team in the fi­nal. I would put the Su­per 8 as, week-in, week-out, the best schools com­pe­ti­tion in New Zealand. The Auck­land 1A and UC Cham­pi­onship have equally strong teams, but they have the odd off week, in my hum­ble opin­ion.”

The travel and tra­di­tions make for a tight-knit Su­per 8 com­mu­nity. Schools of­ten bus with their Se­cond XVs, get bil­leted on a Fri­day night and travel back on the Satur­day af­ter the game or on the Sun­day.

“The coaches have din­ner to­gether on a Fri­day night. The boys get to know each other. It’s a big fam­ily of schools and rugby is a big part of it,” says Hotham.

It all kicks off June 6, with the fi­nal set down for Au­gust 8.

FEAR US Hamil­ton Boys’ per­form their haka be­fore last year’s Top 4 fi­nal.

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