Friday, April 24
The inaugural Otago-wide First XV competition will kick off in style on Saturday as St Kevin’s College and Waitaki Boys’ High School lock horns at Milner Park.
The Otago-wide secondary school competition has replaced the now-defunct Highlanders First XV competition.
It features nine First XV teams from the wider Otago area – Waitaki Boys’ High School and St Kevin’s College from Oamaru, Alexandra’s Dunstan High School, Mount Aspiring College, of Wanaka, Balclutha’s South Otago High School and, from Dunedin, Kavanagh College, John McGlashan College, King’s High School, Taieri College and the Otago Boys’ High School second XV.
Last season proved to be St Kevin’s most successful in recent memory. Justin Fowler’s side notched three victories over local rivals Waitaki, the most memorable being a 32-12 triumph in the “Blood Match” to retain the Leo O’Malley Memorial Trophy as the balance of power shifted.
St Kevin’s also downed Burnside High School in the South Island co-educational schools final.
The 16-10 win sent the team to Rotorua to take on the country’s finest teams for the title of top co-ed school in New Zealand but SKC narrowly lost out 15-14 against Cambridge High School in the semifinal, following Spencer Jones’ last-minute drop goal.
This season’s First XV will feature plenty of new faces – the likes of dynamic skipper Jacob Coghlan, versatile Brodie Flannery and others from the 2014 side have moved on to pastures new.
Fowler said his new-look team have plenty to work on, but his players are dedicated to the cause.
“We have a lot of work to do to be competitive this year and we are under no illusions as to what is required. The team are committed and looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
“We have had a number of good players move on from last year’s team but we also have a number of good players in this year’s side.
“We effectively have a whole new loose-forward trio this year who have not really played there before and it will be a steep learning curve for them.”
Fowler said his team will need to adapt quickly to First XV rugby.
“We also lack a bit of experience compared to last year’s team and it will be important for us to learn quickly about how to deal with pressure and how to make good decisions during games.”
St Kevin’s preparations have been hindered by other commitments and Fowler is expecting a tough encounter with the old enemy.
“We have had a pretty disjointed build-up to the game this Saturday, with at least a quarter of the squad away on a school trip until Thursday, so that is not ideal.
“We have had limited time to train as a squad and we have spent most of the week continuing to work on developing the skills of the players,” he said.
“I am expecting Waitaki to be very strong this year, based on how their junior teams performed last year and they have some very talented players.
“I would imagine that they will be very confident going into this week’s game and deservedly so.”
Waitaki Boys’ have retained seven players from last season’s squad and will be coached by Wayne Kinzett.
Teacher in charge of rugby Ryan Bambry, who coached the First XV last year, said only time would tell which positions would be most difficult to fill following last season’s departures.
“Given that we haven’t started yet, we probably will know a bit more a month or so down the track when the inevitable injuries will occur and squad depth [is] tested,” he said.
Bambry said there was plenty of talent among the new crop of players and he hoped they would adapt to First XV rugby.
“We always hope they will show promise and there are some good young guys coming through our system but First XV rugby is a big step up so hopefully they can rise to the challenge,” he said.
Following last season’s results Bambry said he expected another strong SKC side but said the Waitaki players were ready to get down to business.
“[We] expect as big a challenge as ever.
“They were very physical last year which worked for them, so I can’t see them not trying to dominate us there,” he said.
“Our boys are over the preseason stuff and just want to play rugby for real.”
WAITAKI BOYS’ HIGH SCHOOL VS ST KEVIN’S COLLEGE
Milner Park, 1pm.
Referee: Nick Webster.
Asst refs: Andrew Harding and Bruce Rowland.
The teams will observe a minute’s silence before the game.
By James Ford