2019 School Rugby

  • St Kents kicked out of top rugby competition after boycott threat

    The ethical quagmire that is schoolboy rugby has been further muddied with Auckland powerhouse St Kentigern College being excluded from next year's Auckland 1A First XV competition.
    The stunning turn of events has seen a coalition of schools agree to boycott playing St Kents because of their recruitment policy that has been deemed morally and ethically reprehensible by rival schools.
    The fee-paying independent school admitted to recruiting five senior elite players from rival 1st XVs to bolster their squad for 2019.
    The Herald understands King's College, another independent fee-paying school, was also put on notice but they have agreed to enact changes to their rugby programme.
    "It's a serious issue and it needed a serious response," Mount Albert Grammar School principal Patrick Drumm said. "We needed to take a strong leadership stand as a recruitment strategy like this is not what school sport should be about.
    "The integrity and credibility of the competition is challenged by targeting elite players from around the country. We felt the time was right to try to have a moral and ethical discussion and while we had a positive meeting with King's that wasn't the case with St Kents."
    The rival principals wrote to Head of St Kentigern College David Hodge on three occasions on November 5, November 26 and as recently as Monday. On each occasion they have been disappointed with the response.
    The initial letters invited St Kents to bind themselves to new principles and codes around the recruitment of talent. The last letter was more strident.
    "The 10 schools who have led the conversations with you are now of the view that they have given you fair opportunity to respond," the letter states. "It is the immediate decision of each of our schools that in 2019 our 1st XV rugby teams will not now compete against St Kentigern College."
    Hodge was contacted for comment but was not available for immediate comment.
    The position of the 10 Auckland schools has been broadly supported across the country.
    Napier Boys' High School principal Matthew Bertram said what St Kents had been doing was "brazen" and unprecedented and the Super 8 schools he was chair of supported the move.
    Napier BHS, who made the final of the national champs this year, have seen their halfback "recruited" by St Kents for next season and although it was disappointing, Bertram said the issue was wider than that.
    "They'll [St Kents] just say the family approached them," Bertram said. "That's their party line."
    Bertram said that put families in the awkward position of having to lie to maintain the party line and to not burn bridges.
    "It's a seductive opportunity. I understand that," Bertram said of the opportunity to board at a private school, "but if they say the educational opportunity is manifestly superior, i have evidence to the contrary."
    Bertram said private schools like St Kents were tilting the playing field and going against what building a programme should look like.
    'They're not building from the ground up, from year nine to 11. They're going after the superstars and it's brazen."
    St Kents were stunned last year when, after emerging through the first phase of the 1A competition undefeated and firm favourites to be crowned champions for the third time in four years, they were defeated at home by St Peter's College in the last minute.
    Their aggressive and unprecedented recruitment drive in the last few months is seen by the other 1A schools as a direct response to their failure to win the 2018 title.
    There are College Sport, who administer school sport in Auckland, bylaws that restrict schools in the 1A competition from excessive poaching within the wider Auckland region. But St Kent's have circumnavigated these rules by recruiting from outside the Auckland region and have offered full scholarships to established 1st XV players from Rotorua Boys' High School, Napier BHS, Whangarei BHS, Massey High and St John's in Hamilton.
    The non-private schools in the Auckland 1A competition have been increasingly concerned about the integrity and credibility of the competition being eroded and at a meeting late last month the 1A schools agreed on a new set of guiding principles.
    At the heart of the new document was a proposal to extend the current rules to apply nationwide. That would mean schools in the 1A can't field more than two players in their team who played for another First XV anywhere in New Zealand.
    Those new players would also have to stand down for six games in their first year at the new school and would be ineligible to play in the knock-out rounds of the competition.
    St Kentigern refused to sign the new document. King's have signed the guiding principles document but have not agreed to boycott playing St Kents.
    Drumm says the 1A door remains open to St Kent's, but only if they are willing to reach some kind of agreement.
    New Zealand Rugby this year announced a wide-ranging review into secondary school rugby, with many believing it is a self-serving power-grab to take control of the 1st competitions away from principals.
    Whatever the motives, statistics have seen a precipitous drop in participation levels, even with the rapid rise of female participation.
    One of the common refrains is that secondary schools have become professionalised and only those kids with a potential pathway in the game receive any encouragement to keep playing.
    There is another awkward element to this for the national body: for all the talk of rugby being a great egalitarian pursuit, on one level they like the fact that schools with fat sports budgets can do some of the high-performance heavy lifting for them and can turn out professional-rugby ready talent.
    Regardless of where NZR falls on the St Kents issue, there is a growing belief change has to happen and it has to happen quickly.
    One secondary school source spoken to who didn't want to go on the record in case it looked like a case of sour grapes, said the situation had gotten out of control. Some provincial state schools, he said, had started sending staff to the intermediate school AIMS games in a futile bid to run interference between the scouts of the big independent schools and the talented kids that would normally fall in their catchment zone.
    When you are using already limited resources in that way, the source said, you know the system is damaged.
    Another source who had worked in both the professional and amateur arms of the game for more than two decades said schoolboy rugby had developed "a corrupt mindset" that was filtering through to the kids.
    "In 10 years' time we're going to be dealing with the fallout from this," the coach said. "Those ideals of putting your hand up, not out, getting what you earn, they're all going. Instead we're developing mercenaries who say, 'What's in it for me?'
    "This is far bigger than New Zealand schools rugby at the moment… we're implementing and endorsing a system that's corrupting the game by selling its soul."

  • Good to read that the other 1A schools have taken a stand.

    It would be interesting to know who the other 4 players are.

  • @bovidae said in 2019 School Rugby:

    Good to read that the other 1A schools have taken a stand.

    Hypocritical of a bunch some of them to take a stand though.

  • @nepia There is obviously a degree of self-preservation.

    St Kents and King's are the worst offenders of getting players from outside of Auckland. And if your chequebook is bigger...

  • @bovidae said in 2019 School Rugby:

    @nepia There is obviously a degree of self-preservation.

    St Kents and King's are the worst offenders of getting players from outside of Auckland. And if your chequebook is bigger...

    Yeah, and Kings was a signatory to this - maybe they are sneakier in that they grab the talented U15 players just before they hot 1st XV level?

  • @nepia That's a risk tho, they've still got to develop them to 1st XV

    I'd be interested to see who the WBHS boy was.

  • @nepia Like the Sullivan brothers?

    King's have agreed to change their recruitment policies so are likely on probation.

  • @bovidae said in 2019 School Rugby:

    @nepia Like the Sullivan brothers?

    King's have agreed to change their recruitment policies so are likely on probation.

    Jonah Lowe - sending up the @Stargazer bat signal. 😉

  • @machpants I just asked a guy at work who's son played WBHS 1st 15 this year and he mentioned a couple of names as possibles.

    Pretty sure an exceptionally talented young fella up here had a good deal to go to a top Auckland school (not St Kents) this year, but he is only form 3 this year (year whatever)

  • You'd think the real answer is to have NZ Rugby put in place some sensible rules that are consistent across the country. Hopefully that's what comes out of this NZ Rugby schoolboy rugby review.

  • @nepia Didn't see Kings among the signatures?

  • @tim Article on NZH mentions they will abide by the new guidelines but refused to boycott ST K games - thus their sig not on the letters

  • @tim said in 2019 School Rugby:

    @nepia Didn't see Kings among the signatures?

    Dolt, my bad I have to take everything I said back - I could have sworn I say Kings there when I first read it. 🤦🏾♂

  • They have been saying this for years around schools and poaching. The issue in NZ is the rules and the inconsistency of the application of the rules.
    I have been involved in a couple of clangers were schools (outside AKLD) have basically lawyer-ed up and the rugby unions have backed down as has been mentioned in the article.
    Again not many of the big schools can say they do not bend the rules, even though they say it publicly (Not necessarily recruiting form other firstXVs).
    This has been a build up of miss-management and offloading for decades from a number of organisations from Auckland schools sport (In this case), NZSSC, Local and senior rugby unions all not singing from the same sheet.

  • I just saw that a Boy from my old school, Onewhero Area School in the Wop Wops of the Counties province is attending the Chiefs Under 17's camp. He will get approached for a scholarship no doubt. Any decent player from there has moved to Wesley.

  • Great to see the schools taking a stand. Traditional powerhouses like Kelston and De La Salle might actually have a chance to compete again.

  • NZR is trying to get pro rugby players, so for them getting good players into rich schools which run a very pro style 1st XV is a bonus. Principals look at it from a teaching/schooling perspective. Fee paying private schools look at it from a business perspective. Unsurprisingly they disagree what's 'best'

  • The comments on the Stuff article are interesting. Similar fingers pointed at Scots in the Wellington region, for example.

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