NZ Rugby shares the blame for poaching scandal
For those in the know, it was the worst-kept secret in rugby. Schools with cash to burn were looking outside their school, their city and even their country to find the next 1st XV rugby superstar.
As secondary school rugby’s profile in New Zealand has blossomed and the financial benefits have become clear, high-profile schools would spare no expense to gain any kind of upper-hand they could over the rest of the competition, diluting the sanctity of rugby competition in this country.
And New Zealand Rugby stood by and did nothing.
While the likes of Saint Kentigern’s College and Kings College have copped most of the flak, the game’s governing body needs to take a hard look in the mirror. You may think it’s unfair to put NZ Rugby in the spotlight but it must have known about the suspect behaviour from a number of schools and simply let it happen.
The only other option is that it didn’t know anything about it which would suggest even larger signs of incompetence which would require extensive review. The truth of it is, this scandal falls directly in the lap of Steve Tew and company who failed to act before things reached the tipping point.
They represent the game on a national scale and therefore have the responsibility to ensure the game’s value of competition at any level whether it be the top flight or primary school rippa.
In terms of the schools themselves, I don’t hold much sympathy for either St Kents or the other Auckland schools. Make no mistake, the reason St Kents have been singled out is because they played the game better than the rest and it has only attracted significant attention because now the Auckland schools have finally accepted that they lost.
You can’t tell me if the shoe was on the other foot and Auckland Grammar had the funds to dominate the high school rugby scene, they wouldn’t be the ones staying mum on this whole poaching ordeal. An ideology of ruthless poaching has perverted the game at a secondary school level and St Kents seem to have made peace with that and run with it.
It’s the smaller schools with naturally talented players who are getting stolen in their final years who I feel sorry for. They have been crying out for years for intervention and only through our most popular 1st XV competition has this been blown open.
"The game’s governing body needs to take a hard look in the mirror.
As for the drivel being trotted out about how St Kents are the ones ruining the spirit of the game, it’s total hypocrisy and something that everyone can see through. It is a technique used across all sports often masked under the term “recruitment” and driven almost solely by money. That’s at the heart of it all, at the end of the day.
With games being shown on television, it presents a huge financial opportunity for schools that do well on the national stage. When sport gets to that level, the gentlemanly aspect quickly dissolves to be replaced with the need to win and the benefits that follow. But the sickening byproduct of this scandal is the effect it has on the players.
These are teenagers who are offered the chance of a lifetime - something that could be the start of a glittering career in the national game - and have now been reduced to pawns in a game played by titlehungry academy coaches and asset-measuring principals that want to sit back and say to their adversaries ‘My rugby squad is bigger than yours’. If NZ Rugby won’t take charge, these schools need to take it upon themselves to act in accordance with the values they teach.
St Kentigerns College is in the eye of the storm but there are wider issues in play.