The NZ Barbarians Schools have a proud record to uphold as they prepare for two internationals next week.
Formed in 2012 to help further the development of top schools talent, the NZ Barbarians Schools, which is second tier in name only to the NZ Schools, have won all four of their international games, while dropping just one fixture, on the last play, to NZ Schools in 2015.
On paper, the 2016 squad looks very strong, and there was tangible evidence of that with a competitive hitout against NZ Schools on Thursday in Auckland.
They will play Australian Schools at Mt Albert Grammar School (where the Barbarians are based for the week) on Monday and Fiji Schools at Auckland Grammar School next Saturday, bothoitg games as curtainraisers to the NZ Schools internationals.
Captained by Hastings BHS first five Lincoln McClutchie, who guided his First XV to the Top 4 final with some superb displays, the NZ Barbarians Schools had to yesterday call in King's College fullback/wing Jamie Spowart to replace Leicester Faingaanuku of Nelson College, who was promoted to the NZ Schools squad after a knee injury ruled out Vilimoni Koroi.
Head coach is Ryan Martin, who assisted Darren Larsen in 2014-15. He will take the backs and Sam Moore the forwards.
"We came away pretty happy as a group. We thought we matched (NZ Schools) in most areas, if not bettered them in some," says Martin, of Otago BHS.
There were same tough selection calls, and there is little doubt that several of this squad could add value to the NZ Schools. There is real X-factor and versatility in the backline, where the likes of Niven Longopoa (MAGS) and Quinn Tupaea (Hamilton BHS) have all been in sparkling form for their First XVs in 2016. In the pack, watch for Hastings BHS prop Kianu Kereru-Symes and King's loose forward Joe Johnston.
"At first some were disappointed at not making the team (NZ Schools). But we do a lot on culture and the boys are enjoying it. The only difference is that they get to wear a red jersey," says Martin. The team will wear the scarlet jerseys of the Barbarians club.
The team and management have visited the Barbarians' impressive Eden Park clubrooms for the first time, where some of the ethos of this important club was imparted on them by the likes of President and former All Black Ron Williams.
Blues coach Tana Umaga, himself a Barbarian, will make the first of the two jersey presentations to the team.
Martin and Moore watched Australian Schools defeat Fiji Schools 39-17 on Thursday, in a tight contest in which Australian wing William Eadie ran in a hat-trick.
"Australia were very direct. They hit in close and did a few picks," says Martin, though mindful that they did not put out all their big guns.
The NZ Barbarians Schools will be out to win both games, and perhaps soften up Australia for next Saturday's Trans-Tasman Shield encounter, but they will try to hold true to the Barbarians' ideals of flair and open rugby.
"We're happy if the boys have an attacking mindset, even in our 22m zone. We have a 9-10 who like to play like that," says Martin.
NZ Barbarians Schools:
Props: Sam Matenga (Gisborne BHS), Kianu Kereru-Symes (Hastings BHS), Tevita Mafileo (St Kentigern), Sue Asomua (Wesley); Hookers: Perry Karati (Burnside HS), Ricky Jackson (Otago BHS); Locks: Cameron Suafoa (St Peter's, Auckland), Naitoa Ah Kuoi (Wellington), Tupou Vaai (Wesley); Loose forwards: Joe Johnston (King's), Sam Dickson (Otago BHS), Matene Ruawai (Palmerston North BHS), Kaylum Boshier (New Plymouth BHS); Halfback: Folau Fakatava (Hastings BHS); First fives: Lincoln McClutchie (Hastings BHS), Kaleb Trask (Rotorua BHS); Midfielders: Quinn Tupaea (Hamilton BHS), Tanielu Tele'a (St Kentigern), Scott Gregory (Whangarei BHS); Wings: Connor Garden-Bachop (Scots), Jamie Spowart (King's); Fullbacks: Danny Toala (Hastings BHS), Niven Longopoa (MAGS)
NZ Barbarians Schools' record 2012-15:
Beat Australian Schools 24-5
Beat Samoan Schools 70-6
Beat Auckland Under 18 37-19
Beat Australian Schools 39-21
Beat Fiji Schools 22-16
Lost to NZ Schools 18-