Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Fijians inspire Te Puke Intermediate rugby

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Te Puke Intermediate's rugby academy has enjoyed a remarkable first season of success.

The boys' sevens team had a record run at AIMS Games. They became the first team to go through unbeaten and beat Tauranga Intermediate 17-7 in the final.

The academy was the brainchild of Darren Harvey and Steve Miln, who wanted to do something about improving rugby at Te Puke Intermediate.

Harvey said the first year of the academy had been better than they expected.

"Steve Miln and I were sitting on the bank at Waipuna Park two years ago when we finished 15th or 16th at AIMS and we thought what can we do?

"So we decided to set up a rugby academy and go to Fiji and get a couple of players and see if that helps."

It turned out to be a master stroke.

Joseph Vueti, 13, and Josese Vukataki, 13, from Marist Brothers Primary School in Suva had been at the centre of the team this year.

Their form made them easy picks for the AIMS Tournament Team along with their outstanding captain Senio Pulega.

Many Fijian schoolboys had attended New Zealand secondary schools on full scholarships but none at primary and intermediate levels, before now.

Josese said beating Tauranga Intermediate three times during the season was the highlight of the year for him - and Fiji winning the sevens gold medal at Rio Olympics.

He also loved his time at the school and was grateful to the teachers and host family who looked after them during their stay.

For Joseph, the whole experience had been a total joy.

"I like the friends, families, the school and the town. I hope to come back."

The boys were the first in a three-year programme between Te Puke Intermediate and Fiji Rugby.

"It created an initial buzz because they bring a skill set, that Fijian flair and an attitude we don't see in New Zealand. We sort of built our team around it really," Harvey said.

"They like to stay on their feet all the time. It is an off-loading sort of game and that was a real point of difference in how we played the game."

The Fijians had also excelled in fifteens, making the Tai Mitchell tournament team and would represent Bay of Plenty at Roller Mills in Taranaki later this month before they go home.

Te Puke Intermediate had more good news last week with Senio Pulega, 13, the first boy from the school to be awarded a full scholarship to Kings College in Auckland.

Harvey said the big, powerful ball-carrier was a standout at AIMS Games and attracted the attention of Kings College rugby coach Tasesa Lavea.

"It is big for us because it is recognition that we are on the right path," Harvey said.

"We have the boys at a playing and fitness level that really was above everyone else at the tournament.

"For us to win the national tournament and have three boys make the tournament team is amazing."

Te Puke Intermediate
Te Puke Intermediate has produced four All Blacks in Royce Willis, Jarrad Hoeata, Tanerau Latimer and Nathan Harris - more than any other intermediate school.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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