Former Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer has established a new world schools tournament in South Africa and leading New Zealand first XV teams are firmly on his wish list.
Meyer is well-known to New Zealand rugby fans after forming a close friendship with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. The pair regularly spent time together away from the pressures of international rugby, sharing beers, meals and even attending a game park.
Meyer led the Bulls to the 2007 Super Rugby title and the Springboks from 2012-2015; his last match the 20-18 World Cup semifinal loss to the All Blacks at Twickenham.
Now in his role as managing director of Carinat Sports Marketing, Meyer has teamed up with Paarl Boys' High School, the No 1 school team in South Africa for the past three years, to set-up the World Schools Festival.
The inaugural event, which accompanies Paarl's 150th anniversary, will take place from April 2-8 next year. The top 10 South African rugby schools have committed, and it is believed Sydney's The Scots College are also on board. Meyer has sent invites to 25 leading New Zealand rugby schools, and around the globe to Fiji, Tonga, Japan, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Georgia, England, Ireland and France.
Mount Albert Grammar, Christchurch Boys' and Wellington College are among those New Zealand teams invited.
South African broadcaster SuperSport has indicated interest in televising the event.
"We would like to extend an invitation to your team to come play in this, what might soon become the world's strongest international school competition," the invitation reads.
At this stage, Meyer is keen to have three New Zealand teams involved but, given the unique opportunity, interest is expected to be widespread.
"It's always been my dream to have a top world schools tournament in South Africa," Meyer told the Herald. "I've spoken to the top 10 schools in South Africa and they are all very keen because this has not been done. If I can get 10 schools from abroad it will be our best against the world's best. For me it's about building bridges, meeting guys and giving back."
Otago Boys' High School is the first New Zealand team to sign up, pledging to take a squad of 26, and it is understood Napier Boys' is likely to soon follow suit.
The trip appears a brilliant opportunity for New Zealand teenagers fortunate enough to attend. South Africa is an incredibly passionate rugby nation. Its schools rugby is strong, with matches attracting crowds of up to 25,000.
Carinat, who previously put together World Club 10s in Mauritius, and Paarl will cover all costs once teams are on the ground. Work is also underway to find a sponsor to contribute towards airfares.
The week-long event will see teams play two games but New Zealand sides are expected to arrange others outside the tournament, and view the trip as the cornerstone of rugby programmes.
Meyer has also lined up several other activities. These include talks from former Springbok captains Jean de Villiers, Victor Matfield and John Smit; training sessions with specialist coaches, and trips to enjoy the wider region which features game parks, the picturesque Stellenbosch and Cape Town. There is also the likelihood of forming long-term future exchanges between schools.
"Usually tournaments in South Africa they just play games and that's the end of it," Meyer said. "I'm going to try and get a few top New Zealand and South Africans to upskill the coaches. It will be a festival of rugby."
Otago Boys' High School first XV coach Ryan Martin said the team had once previously travelled abroad - to Samoa in 2012. This venture to South Africa would form a selling point for recruitment next year.
"For us, it's a bit of a no-brainer in terms of facing some of the best teams in the world. It looks like it has been well organised. It will be pretty special to access this level of rugby and I know when Paarl Boys' came out here this year they lost to Christchurch Boys' but they smashed everyone else so it will give you a bit of a benchmark.
"The day-to-day stuff is all covered so you've just got to get over there which is pretty good."
Invited New Zealand Schools
St. Kentigern College
St. Pats Silverstream
Sacred Heart College
St. Pauls Collegiate
Feilding High School
St. Andrews College
Palmerston North Boys
St. Peters School (Cambridge)
De La Salle
St Johns College (Hamilton)