College sport: Touch star keeps on the ball with rugby

By Campbell Burnes

Touch rugby player Sean Wilkie at Macleans College. Photo / Doug Sherring
Touch rugby player Sean Wilkie at Macleans College. Photo / Doug Sherring

Sean Wilkie is keeping sharp with his First XV as he counts down to September and a trip to Australia with the New Zealand Under 15 touch side.

The 15-year-old, Year 11 Macleans College student was chosen for the national side earlier this year after leading the Counties Manukau team to a runners-up finish at the junior touch nationals in Christchurch.

While there is little in the way of touch competitions running in midwinter, Wilkie can be found on the wing for the Macleans First XV in the 1B grade. He is small, at 70kg, but can step, has pace and is technically sound on the tackle, having played much of his rugby at second five. He also comes from good pedigree, both his grandfathers having played provincial rugby in the '50s, Norm Brown for Auckland and the late Peter Wilkie for Hawke's Bay.

Wilkie junior played Auckland Under 14s last season, but touch has captured his passion since he took it up in Year 9.

"When I first started playing, I said my goal was to make a New Zealand team, whether it be 17s or 15s, but winning was the main priority at nationals," he says. Now he would love to assume the captaincy of the NZ Under 15s, his ability to communicate a strength.

"Obviously it's an absolute pleasure to be able to play for New Zealand."

There was plenty of drama on finals day at the nationals. Counties Manukau lost to Waikato in extra time in a draining encounter. Then, not long after leaving the field, Christchurch was rocked by an earthquake.

"The earth started shaking. It was real scary, lasting about 5-10 seconds. I couldn't have imagined the earth moving like that," Wilkie says.

The New Zealand side will head into camp in Caloundra for some intensive training days before the tournament, which should be very competitive. Wilkie's parents and sister will be supporting him on the Sunshine Coast.

During the summer, he plays for Macleans in Monday night competition, and on weekends for the highly rated Loaded team with his older brother Charles.

"It's really good getting a lot of experience and knowledge playing against some of New Zealand's best players," he says of playing with adults. It allows him to develop his touch skills in several positions.

"If I'm playing in the middle position, then my strength will be the dive, but if I'm at link it will be my speed and throwing long passes.

"If the defence tends to man-in, what we call 'shot', then the wing is always open for a long pass," he says.

Macleans has a strong touch culture, being the top school in the east and rivalled mainly by MAGS in Auckland. From third in the 2014 nationals, when Wilkie was in Year 9, he is hoping they can challenge in December at the 2016 nationals.

Longer-term, Wilkie can see touch being No 1, but the two sports have been mutually beneficial for him.

"Touch has made me realise how I need to draw other players in when I'm not with the ball. It has also benefitted my passing and footwork in rugby."

- NZ Herald

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