A triumph that was heaven-sent St Peter’s provide blueprint to success
Someone, somewhere was looking down on Auckland’s St Peter’s College first XV this year as they negotiated a precipitous path to the national schools rugby title.
Calling them ‘‘God’s boys’’ might be taking literary license but at times it was as if their victory was ordained.
Who knows? Maybe it was. St Peter’s, in many ways, stands as the shining example for the right way to achieve success in first XV rugby at a time when the spotlight on the schools game has never shone brighter.
The Catholic school stands among a coalition of 10 institutions across the super city who have decided to boycott St Kentigern College next year because of their recruitment policies.
Just how that battle plays out remains a work in progress, with St Kents seeking arbitration to find a ‘‘common ground’’ for next year. But it is no stretch to say St Peter’s sees itself as a beacon for the way forward in schools rugby.
‘‘I’d like to think so,’’ St Peter’s headmaster James Bentley told Stuff. ‘‘You get so much satisfaction from seeing a team of your boys who have grown through the school, you galvanise the community because they’ve known these kids growing up and then when you get to a final it means so much.
‘‘Schools that try to shortcut that by bringing in players who aren’t familiar to the community in their last year will lose that aspect.’’
Most of the St Peter’s first XV, including inspirational leader and star player Niko Jones, attended the central Auckland college since either their first intake in year 7 or the second in year 9. There were ‘‘a couple of others’’ who came in year 10 and also their permitted two international players, Chris Halaufia and Apetone Vaka, who arrived as part of a long-established placement programme with the Tongan government.
As Jones, son of All Blacks great Sir Michael, told Stuff recently: ‘‘We have memories since we were 12 years old together, playing touch, tag, and staying hours after training. It’s a journey we’ve been on since we were kids.’’
It showed. When the going got tough, their collective spirit, togetherness and mateship helped St Peter’s to a remarkable triple triumph to cap possibly the greatest first XV season in school history.
Here’s how the team’s finish to their storybook season played out: they stunned everybody but themselves in rolling the previously undefeated St Kentigern College 22-21 in the Auckland 1A semifinal, thanks to a last-minute converted try from big loosehead prop Zyon Holo; then won the final 29-28 over King’s College, surviving a massive late assault which saw a rival player drop the ball with the tryline open.
They then went on to defeat Westlake Boys High 19-17 in the Blues region final; won the top four semifinal 8-7 over Hamilton Boys High; and secured their third national championship with an epic 31-28 victory over Napier Boys High in the final after trailing 21-0.
Five high-stakes matches, every one going to the wire, and the Saints winning them all by a combined total of eight points.
God on their side?
‘‘I don’t know about that,’’ smiles Bentley. ‘‘But it started to feel a little like it was fated. They fought for each other, and they never doubted themselves. They’re all friends, and they’ve all grown up together.’’
A culmination of a cycle, in other words, which is how Bentley believes first XV rugby should be.
‘‘Our great former coach Eric Kohlhase said when we won our last 1A title in 2000, if everybody plays by the rules all teams can have the opportunity to win this title. I agree with that philosophy.’’
Which is why, Bentley says, the 10 Auckland schools felt they had to take a stand on St Kentigern who