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Skinning 'em . . . Waitaki Boys' High School fullback Bryden Skinner makes a break during a First XV game against King's High School at Kettle Park, Dunedin, last season. PHOTO: CASWELL IMAGES

Schoolboy rugby has it all – drama, excitement, tension, politics and passion. Hayden Meikle looks at how the two Oamaru schools are shaping ahead of the weekend’s opening round of the Otago First XV competition.

WAITAKI BOYS’ HIGH SCHOOL
Coaches: Wayne Kinzett and Niall Gregg.

Key players: No 8 Sione Kaufusi, prop Tonga Malafu, hooker Siketi Tevao, lock Oli Kinzett, flanker Jacob Pledger, midfield back Bayley Sullivan, utility back Bryden Skinner, winger Joseph Siale.

The oil: This could be an interesting year for Waitaki Boys’, which has lost some veteran campaigners but will field a team based around some genuinely talented players who already have plenty of experience under their belts.

The forward pack and midfield look like particular areas of strength.

Man mountain Peter Armstrong leaves a fair hole at tighthead prop, and talented lock Paddy Henwood has been sadly robbed of a third year in the team – his second as captain – and likely a very good rugby career beyond school by concussion issues.

Otherwise, the pack is loaded. Tonga Malafu was the big improver last year, and the quiet prop with the cheeky grin could become one of the players of the competition, while Siketi Tevao and Sione Kaufusi can run amok if they are given space.

Flanker Jacob Pledger, who got plenty of game time in year 11, has added bulk, while another youngster, Oli Kinzett, has a world of potential in the second row.

Waitaki supporters are extremely excited by the team’s new midfield combination.

Centre Bayley Sullivan is strong and quick and has an excellent rugby brain, while third-year flyer Bryden Skinner – son of North Otago great Ross Skinner – had a wonderful campaign for the North Otago under-16 team after moving from fullback to second five-eighth.

Bryden Skinner will co-captain the team with Lochie Templeton, a wiry flanker who packs courage and a high workrate into a relatively small frame.

Waitaki has lost the senior 9-10-12 combination of Thomas Hutton, Jake Matthews and Mason Kinzett, and has also been digesting the bad news that explosive winger Jacob Tuisani is out for the season with shoulder problems.

Mason James is ready to step into the playmaking role, winger Joseph Siale is back from Otago Boys’ High School, and the multi-talented Ben Paton will be a key contributor when he is not shooting hoops.

Waitaki had an extensive preseason that included two days at a camp in Christchurch involving multiple schools.

Its opening game is at Milner Park tomorrow against the Otago Boys’ Second XV.

ST KEVIN’S COLLEGE
Coaches: Robbie Breen, Hamish Slater, Regan George.

Key players: First five-eighth Ben McCarthy, blindside flanker Eli Winders, No 8 Samuela Babiau, flanker Paea Fifita, prop Tupou Fifita, second five-eighth Jerome Misiloi.

The oil: Expect a much better year from the boys in blue.

Unstoppable . . . St Kevin’s College No 8 Samuela Babiau goes on the charge against King’s High School in a preseason game in Oamaru last month. Fem Bootsan is in support. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

There are no cocky proclamations of glory coming out of Redcastle but there certainly seems to be a strong feeling that St Kevin’s is a team on the rise in 2018.

As a whole, the team is bigger and quicker and more experienced, and that should lead to improved results in the Otago First XV competition and a better performance in the Blood Match.

The forward pack loses talented lock Korey Patrick and workhorse loose forward Kalas Taukamo, but it still packs a heck of a punch.

Eli Winders is a dynamo on the side of the scrum, and No 8-prop Samuela Babiau is looking fit and mean as he comes back from a knee injury.

Coach Robbie Breen has particularly high hopes for the development of cousins Paea (openside flanker) and Tupou (prop) Fifita, while midfielder Jerome Misiloi could be the big improver in the backs.

Perhaps, though, St Kevin’s will only go as far as the lad running the cutter can take the side.

Ben McCarthy is one of the most naturally gifted rugby players the school has produced in years, and if he gets some good ball, the sky is the limit.

You can guarantee St Kevin’s players will be fit as they have been grilled and drilled by trainer Mike Lawrence, the former international rower.

They will also have stability at the top as rangy lock Tama Wooldridge is captain for a second straight season, a relative rarity in First XV rugby.

St Kevin’s showed mixed form in the preseason, but will be aiming to start the competition with a bang when it hosts Taieri College this weekend.