Rival captains ready to roll

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There are plenty of similarities between these two fine young men.

Both are 16, both have the rare honour of captaining a First XV in year 12, both generally play lock – and both hunger to be holding aloft a special trophy this afternoon.

One big difference is that Tama Wooldridge will be in St Kevin’s College blue and Paddy Henwood will wear Waitaki Boys’ High School black when the rival Oamaru schools clash in the 83rd annual Blood Match at Whitestone Contracting Stadium.

The young leaders have had big jobs this week, preparing to play key individual roles at the same time as ensuring their team-mates do not get over-awed by one of the great days on the school sports calendar.

Even as the rival skippers gathered to meet the Oamaru Mail earlier this week, they were interviewed in front of a captive audience – a bunch of junior players, possibly dreaming of the day they get to play in the special game.

Wooldridge said St Kevin’s, following a 12-8 loss to Taieri College last weekend, had spent the week following its usual routines.

“We haven’t done anything too exciting. We’ve just been training and preparing like we have done all season.

“Everyone is good to go and really excited.”

This is a game that features plenty of attention, and heapings of extra pressure from various angles, but Wooldridge was confident his developing side could handle it.

“You’ve got to remember it’s just another game, that it happens every year, and you’ve got to have confidence in yourself.”

His opposite number knows all about the Blood Match.

Henwood played in last year’s game – Waitaki won 19-8 – and is eagerly anticipating another chance to step on to what will be the biggest stage many of these young men will experience.

“I think we’re shaping up really well,” the Waitaki captain said.

“Everyone’s looking forward to it and really excited about the game. Obviously everyone knows it’s a big occasion for both schools but you’ve just got to enjoy it.”

Waitaki might be considered a marginal favourite, given it beat St Kevin’s 29-6 in a competition game earlier this season, but the Blood Match is famous for ignoring previous form.

Both sides are fairly young across the field, so it may come down to which team can cope with the pressure the best.