Oamaru schools might be on holiday but their First XVs are preparing for the start of the season. Hayden Meikle looks at how the two local sides are shaping ahead of the weekend’s opening round of the Highlanders First XV competition.
WAITAKI BOYS’ HIGH SCHOOL
Coaches: Hamish McKenzie, Dan Keno and Willy Guyton.
Key players: Prop Peter Armstrong, lock Paddy Henwood, flanker Lochie Templeton, inside back Jake Matthews, five-eighth Mason Kinzett, outside backs Bryden Skinner and Jacob Tuisani.
The oil: Waitaki Boys’ will not be the biggest team in the competition so it will have to play with pride and precision if it is to match the achievements of last year’s impressive squad.
Waitaki was excellent in 2016, riding the back of a monster forward pack to reach the final of the First XV competition and win the Blood Match, but powerhouses like Maka Mafileo, Josh Hayward and Junior Vea have left school. Armstrong and rising lock Henwood, the captain, will be tasked with leading a smaller, younger forward pack from the front, while Skinner has electric pace and will hope to get plenty of opportunities if playmakers Matthews and Kinzett can spark up. Waitaki will aim to make the top six but anything after that could be a bonus.
The quote: “I think it’s an exciting time for Waitaki Boys’ rugby. We’ve got some real emerging talent. For us, it’s about getting the boys to do the simple things right, bringing a bit of enjoyment back and aiming to make Waitaki a powerhouse in Otago secondary schools rugby again. We’ve got a good mix of year 11, 12 and 13 players, so it’s about building systems to maintain some continuity over the next few years.” – Dan Keno.
ST KEVIN’S COLLEGE
Coaches: Robbie Breen and Joe Pickett.
Key players: Locks Tama Woolridge and Korey Patrick, centre-loose forward Forrest Beer, loose forward Kalas Taukamo, halfback Ramesh Khatri, first five-eighth Ben McCarthy, midfielder Ovini Saro.
The oil: Like its cross-town rival, St Kevin’s will not be one of the bigger sides in the competition but the Catholic co-ed school has some talented and committed youngsters keen to do the jersey proud. Will Sunderland and Kelepi Funaki leave big holes up front, and the loss of backline star Levi Emery to Christ’s College is a blow, but McCarthy is a real talent, and Woolridge and Taukamo lead a forward pack that will hunt as a unit. The school has recruited a couple of handy imports. Saro, in particular, has raw physical talents and it will be interesting to see how how develops. St Kevin’s looked very sharp in patches in pre-season games, and will again have its sights set on on being the leading co-ed school in the competition.
The quote: “This year is about working on our culture. We’d love to have some success but more than anything, we want to create better rugby players. Everyone is buying into taking a more modern approach to how we prepare and play, and our structures are getting there.” – Robbie Breen