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.
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.