Club rugby is under way, and secondary school rugby is soon to follow. Hayden Meikle catches up with coaches from the two Oamaru First XV teams to see how they are tracking.
WAITAKI BOYS’ HIGH SCHOOL
Hamish McKenzie is not a fan of the R word.
Waitaki Boys’ had a marvellous season in 2016, regaining the “Peanut” after winning the Blood Match and making the final of the Highlanders First XV competition.
No fewer than 14 members of that squad, however, have left the school. Tempting, therefore, to label this a rebuilding year – but don’t tell McKenzie that.
“I never like to talk about a rebuilding year. The simple fact is you’re always going to have a turnover of players at high school level,” he said.
“We will definitely have an inexperienced team, but there’s only one way to get experience and that’s to play for the First XV.
“We’re starting from scratch and we hope to improve each week.”
The most obvious change in the Waitaki team will be its size.
Six of last year’s monster forward pack have left the school, and while the new-look First XV contains plenty of talented players from last year’s outstanding colts squad, it will not be huge.
“I think we’ll be quite mobile. We won’t be the biggest team going around this year,” McKenzie said.
“We do have a lot of guys from last year in our backline, so we could be strong there. The key will be to get ball up front and use it smartly.”
Waitaki was beaten by Rangiora High School in a pre-season game. Another game, against Christ’s College, was cancelled, but Waitaki has a game against Rathkeale College on Wednesday.
The school’s opening game of the First XV competition is against Taieri College in Mosgiel on April 29.
ST KEVIN’S COLLEGE
There has already been plenty of sweat shed on the fields at Redcastle.
New St Kevin’s coach Robbie Breen said his First XV players had been working hard to prepare for the coming season.
“We’ve been going for just over a month. But the boys started fitness sessions in early February, and they’re now doing Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“We’ll be humming, hopefully, by the time the competition rolls around. My philosophy has been to get our shape and packages we’ll run during the season sorted nice and early, and then fine tune as we go.”
The First XV was working closely with the school’s under-16 team to make sure boys were getting plenty of opportunities, Breen said.
St Kevin’s has lost some of its star power – notably outstanding back Levi Emery, who transferred to Christ’s College – but the coach likes what he has seen from the boys in blue so far.
“We’ve got a good squad of guys who are really committed to setting high standards for SKC rugby, and they’re working extremely hard.
“Our goal is to set the bar higher than we’ve ever been.”
Like McKenzie, Breen is working with the talent he has, rather than worrying about a lack of big units or tall timber.
“We are quite small in some areas. We don’t have a lot of size up front, especially, but we do have young players who are going to be here for a few years.”
St Kevin’s got a handful of abbreviated games at the Catholic schools tournament in Oamaru at the weekend, and it has games on Monday and next Friday as part of a rugby festival hosted by the school.
Its opening game in the Highlanders First XV competition is against King’s High School in Dunedin on April 29.