A tri­umph that was heaven-sent St Peter’s pro­vide blue­print to suc­cess

Nelson Mail - - Sport - Marc Hinton

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

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