Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

College rugby: Financial divide in 1st XVs big concern

Gregor Paul's week-long series into Auckland schools' obsession with 1st XV rugby prompted a swag of letters. We have reproduced some of them here (letters abridged and names and addresses have been withheld).

St Kent's, blue and white, and Sacred Heart are among the five big spenders on 1st XV rugby. Photo / APN
St Kent's, blue and white, and Sacred Heart are among the five big spenders on 1st XV rugby. Photo / APN

Upon reading your articles about schoolboy rugby I thought you would be interested in my experiences at one of the schools you are focusing on, Mt Albert Grammar.

I was one of the students at the school who was a high performance sports player, with the school sporting a "silver lion" badge to show for it, as well as a lowly arts student. My reason for transferring from a small all-girls school to Mt Albert was so that I could develop my art. When I was accepted to the school however I received a call from the then Head of Sport asking whether I planned on trying out for the school top team in my sporting code. I said no. He responded by telling me I would be hassled if people found out about my sporting background.

It doesn't take long to realise that rugby and sporting excellence... rules the school. You couldn't sit through a single assembly without hearing the 1st 15's latest achievements.

When they won some trophy, the national one from memory, I honestly thought there would be fireworks and monuments erected in their honour.

I could go on but instead I will leave you with this. Have you checked to see how many players are repeating year 13 or as we called it year 14? You might be interested in why they have to be at school for a whole extra year.

St Kent's 1st XV is all about PR and profile for the school and principal Steve Cole.
Do not send your 12 or 13-year-old reasonably talented and rugby-mad son to the school with the thoughts he will make the 1st XV.
Your hard-earned school fees will likely go to pay for rugby scholarships for South Auckland or Northland boys who will keep your lad out of the 1st XV - that's irony.

Congratulations on your series of articles on First XV rugby. As a long time fan and attendee of First XV games, the way the competition has changed and evolved (in the most part, not for the good) needed to be exposed. If nothing else, your articles will heighten awareness around teams that are tempted to "poach" players and put rugby before educational needs. And importantly, this should now mean the so-called "elite" schools, with their recently planned Super League concept, will have to think twice. It would be terrible to see such a divide in schoolboy rugby.

At one of the top schools in Auckland, which I won't name, I had been in the squad the previous year and was "forgotten about this year" or so I have been told. Our school is way too revolved around rugby. Our first XV players get extra privileges that full fee-paying students don't ... We work our way all the way up then just get an import over the top of us - it's ridiculous really.

I went to KBHS and played 3 years 1st XV, 1982-84, winning the Auckland Championship twice, once as captain and our success was built on the coaching of Wynne Jones and Brian Megson. St Kent's was not a school we would even consider playing, because they just weren't that good. The powerhouses were KBHS, MAGS and AGS, and results were built purely on the talent that cycled in and out of the schools' catchment - one year you played Sean Fitzpatrick at Sacred Heart and got your arse kicked, the next year he was gone and you beat them by 20 points.

We can lump Hamilton [Boys' High] in the same boat as the big five in Auckland. They aggressively market themselves and can also be found providing scholarships to promising rugby players in the Waikato and beyond. Are these schools really preparing these players for rugby after school or is their focus entirely on the next 1st XV? Figures released in the NZRFU report last season suggested up to 48 per cent of all 1st XV players never play the game again upon leaving school. I wonder what would happen if the Auckland 1A competition was reduced to just those five big-spending schools?
People in the rugby union know what's going on - it's just that no one has got the guts to ride a complaint or an investigation out to the bitter end. Well done Gregor Paul for these articles.

I have been reading the articles in the Herald over the last two days and it is no surprise that something like this would come to fruition.

I am a parent from Westlake Boys' High School and have had boys in the 1st XV team for the last two years and have been working and supplying after match food ever since.

It is a real honour to be picked for the 1st XV rugby team at any school but these teams must compete fairly. This means players should only be eligible if they are of age and are still within school. This should not include students who are repeating or finished NCEA Level 3.

King's College gave an ex Rosmini student a scholarship this year and this student has completed NCEA Level 3. So why is he at school this year, surely it's not about the learning? It's all about the rugby.

Any student who has finished or is repeating should not be able to compete in the 1st XV competition. If they are a repeating student they should be at school to pass and not for rugby.

Our experience against St Kent's last year with players who were above age and 3rd repeat students, looked like grown men - there was no chance.

College Sport and the Provincial Rugby Clubs should be making a stand on players who are participating that have either completed NCEA Level 3 or are repeat students. Failing students should be forced to get through their repeat year with focusing on education and not sports.

Reading with interest your series of articles concerning 1st XV rugby in Auckland.
As someone involved in schoolboy rugby a lot of what is being written is interesting but not new, however one thing I would add to your article about St Kent's this morning is that it is not just about the poor results of their 2nd XV, have a look at the finals results over the last five years and see how many of those finals were contested by St Kent's rugby sides throughout the grades.
My recollection is that last year one other side apart from the 1st XV contested a final, the year before none.
Say what you like about Auckland Grammar and Sacred Heart, but they consistently have a high representation in finals rugby in a number of grades.

Enjoying your articles about Auckland schoolboy rugby.

I have three boys who have, among them, enjoyed six fantastic years in the AGS 1st XV, starting in 2004 through to last year.

I have witnessed at a very close range over a very dynamic period, the shifting of power and the politics in what is now a high-profile schoolboy sport - thanks to Sky Sport's initiative.

It is very interesting, and somewhat disappointing, to see the St Kent's model in operation. I think this is more about enhancing "Brand" St Kent's, across all the sporting codes, to compete with the perceived, number one-branded private school, King's College.

St Kent's have always trailed their South Auckland peer in brand perception. The headmaster's tactic or marketing plan is clearly closing the gap.

St Kent's last year defeated Otago BHS in the national final by over 30 points, then [won] the world final by a similar margin.

Remarkably they are unbeaten in 45 matches - unheard of. How does that happen? That's right - it's down to the coaching.

This is clearly about a competition that is now unfortunately predictable, which is such a shame for so many reasons.

ARFU are clearly aware of this issue as many schools have sought change.

Enjoyed your article regarding school rugby budgets and the widening gap between the haves and the have nots.
If anything those budgets are dwarfed by those in Sydney with two schools in particular having budgets second only to the NSW Waratahs.

My son left school (Rangitoto College) just over three years ago. He played in the 1st XV during his time at the school. Rangitoto rugby has been in decline for a few years now... not helped by the top club players (prior to starting high school) being recruited by out-of-zone schools for their sporting ability. In my son's era there were a number of boys who went right past the gates of Rangitoto College to their "school of choice".

Not sure if there are any realistic answers or solutions, but the practice is alive and kicking for sure.

My son is at St Kent's ... I understand the figure is over $600,000 [for rugby] at the school. The non-1st XV students at the school are more than a bit disgruntled about the treatment of these students.
I would believe that your estimate was only for the Japan trip.

To judge the inherent strength of rugby at the school, versus the over-emphasis on First XV, it is worth looking at the age-grade competition results from the schools.

You can easily see the schools that just pour money into paying for a First XV. They tend to have no or few teams in the age-grade finals day.

Last year, the age grade finals day was dominated by teams from Sacred Heart and Auckland Grammar. St Kent's had only one team I think.

I know you're a rugby writer and your pieces on exposing the financing of secondary school rugby are very needed but the point should be made that this is happening in a number of major code sports - look at the hockey, football, netball etc results for evidence of this. Your article on St Kent's is excellent and is all the more remarkable since their 1st XV was relegated and in 1B less than 10 years ago. Schools without the hindrance of strict zoning (private and special purpose schools), with large trust backing and those with boarding houses (MAGS, EGGS) now start significantly ahead in any of the premier competitions - the results speak for themselves.

I am reading your articles on schoolboy rugby in Auckland with considerable interest.

At some stage I should imagine that there would be an analysis of the individual players concerned who make up the numbers of being new to the school or who have not been there right through from year 9.

It would be interesting to note how many such movements involve Polynesian boys given the high percentage of Polynesian players in the Blues and Warriors squads.

I would be interested to see what Auckland Rugby's viewpoint on this is. They happily handed over the college rugby to schools a number of years ago and your findings are echoed through the club "system" with the same schools being feeders to similar strength and funded clubs at the expense of clubs that losing schools contribute to.
Of note, once players are taken out of their home schools, they tend to also get sucked into the stronger clubs as a result of the same financial incentives.

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