In the context of professional rugby it was a small something to say well done, but in the eyes of Hastings Boys High's first XV it was a huge gesture and an unexpected part of career training as players enjoyed a morning tea shout after the team photo session yesterday.

The treat, which took place about 1pm to fit a busy schedule, came from an unofficial new sponsor who wanted none of the usual trappings, such as name association.

Working through Hawke's Bay Today, he wanted to remain anonymous, but said he wanted to show the team a sign of public gratitude for what was the best first XV season in the school's history.

"You played with verve and tenacity," he wrote on an unsigned card.


"You dug deep and showed great resolve. Remember all of these attributes that you have all displayed this season and especially on Sunday. They will serve you well in life. Be proud of yourselves. I am."

Approaching Hawke's Bay Today on Monday, the day after Hastings had their only loss in 19 matches this year when beaten 14-13 by Auckland side Mt Albert Grammar in the national secondary schools championship Adidas Cup final, he said: "When you have boys playing against a tight five with a 135kg prop it is going to be a hard afternoon, and it was."

He explained his desire for anonymity by saying: "It's not about me."

Team manager Steve Small said the team had had numerous sponsors, supporters and helpers as it met the challenges posed by teams which were bigger in stature and resources, and all but became the country's top school team this season.

They ranged from major sponsors such as Heartland Bank, Cape Physio and the Horny Goat Cafe, to old boys chipping in with donations to helping out with accommodation. But the smoko sponsor was something "different and special."

He has no ties to the school, and classifies himself as "just a HB supporter" who is now a "new HBHS supporter."

The team reciprocated by getting practice doing something those who become professionals will be doing almost as regularly as going to training - signing a rugby ball for the new benefactor.

For the record, Hastings Boys won all 18 games before Sunday's showdown in Palmerston North, where they just failed to put an eighth trophy in the cabinet for the season.

Along the way they won the Hurricanes Youth Rugby Cup, the Super 8 Championship contested by eight central and lower North Island boys schools, and five trophies for specific inter-school matches against Wellington College, and Gisborne, Rotorua, Kelston and Napier Boys High Schools: scoring 655 points, with just 153 against.

Sunday was their first time in the final of the National First XV Championship, which was first played in 1982.

Numerous players attained Hawke's Bay and Hurricanes region representative honours, with possibly even greater honours to follow, after the naming of captain Kianu Kereru-Symes, vice-captain Lincoln McClutchie, Liam Bauckham, Folau Fakatava, and Danny Toala in an extended New Zealand Secondary Schools squad from which teams will be chosen to play to play the Australia and Fiji national schools' sides next month.

But there are other opportunities - player Jacob Devery revealed he has had inquiries from a couple of agents, something which Mr Small says is not unusual for players nearing the end of their time at school.

There's been interest from provincial unions, franchises, and rugby league clubs, like the Warriors, which he says have to be "managed" to ensure the players make the best of their opportunities, starting in the classroom.

"The can't just come to school to play rugby," he says.

The 17-year-old Devery, with three years in the first XV behind him, hasn't made any decisions on the football career, although he hopes it will be with coaches such as the new pair HBHS put together this year - Mark Ozich and Tafai Ioasa. "The coaching was really well done," he says.

But Devery does have his academic future sorted, with plans to go to Waikato University - sports, with psychology papers.

There's more time for Gideon Kautai, who at 16 was the youngest in the team, but who played in every match, and plans to be back for more next year. "I want to be a professional rugby player," he says.

The national First XV championship has twice been won by Hawke's Bay schools, Te Aute College beating traditional rivals and now closed Bombay Hills school St Stephen's College 7-4 in 1984, and Napier Boys High School sharing the trophy in 2002 when drawing with Rotorua 6-6 at Eden Park, Auckland.

Napier have been beaten finalists four times.