Rugby: NZ Schools raring to go

By Campbell Burnes

Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

It won't matter to this NZ Schools side that they have not tasted defeat in three years, or four if you are talking about the Trans-Tasman Shield.

Those are not relevant stats for young men learning about being a professional and looking to win two international schools matches in five days.

As they prepare for Monday's first match against Fiji Schools at Auckland's Mt Albert Grammar, this powerful-looking side, at least on paper, will be thinking about their structures and game plan, ironing out kinks from the hitout against the NZ Barbarians Schools on Thursday, and welcoming in wing Leicester Faingaanuku, who was promoted after injury to the luckless Vilimoni Koroi on Thursday.

NZ Schools head coach Jason Holland, who is the Hurricanes assistant, has taken over from Dave Hewett. Holland's assistant is Tom Cairns, long-time coach of Gisborne BHS. The first part of their job was getting the selection right, no easy task when you consider the riches from which they had to choose.

"There were guys who were unlucky. Some of the selections were around the style of footy we want to play," says Holland.

There is form and versatility, not just in positions, but also in the ability to play different styles of game. The team has size up front, where the likes of prop Damon Abraham and lock Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa can dominate, while loose forwards Hoskins Sotutu and Ajay Mua can carry with power and claim lineout ball. The captain will be Palmerston North BHS' Brayden Iose, who can play No 8 or 7 and is explosive from the base of the scrum.

In the backline, there are a plethora of goalkickers, but the best of the lot might be St Peter's No 10 Harry Plummer, now fully over a shoulder issue.

MAGS' Caleb Clarke is seen as a wing who can play centre, while Christ's fullback Ngane Punivai has a touch of X-factor. Holland says Clarke can be used in various ways, among them hitting the line off set-play a la Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo with the Highlanders.

Holland and Cairns both checked out Australia's 39-17 win over Fiji on Thursday. While it appears that Australia understandably kept some of their powder dry, there were some pertinent observations to be made.

"Both teams are bigger than us. It was pretty close. Aussie got a couple of intercept tries to blow it out," says Holland. "The Fijian boys have some athletes, they are gone from turnover ball. We need to be accurate and not give them the ball they thrive off. Both Australia and Fiji are good sides and confrontational, so we'll have to match that and back our skills."

Australia also possess speed in the form of wing William Eadie, who scored a hat-trick.

While Faingaanuku is the sole Year 12 in the group, there is ample leadership experience, with several having played for the 2015 NZ Barbarians Schools, and Clarke is back from the 2015 NZ Schools.

Holland has two aims with this teams.

"It's about development, which happens all week, but now we're about winning two test matches."

Next Saturday, NZ Schools will face Australian Schools for the Trans-Tasman Shield at Auckland Grammar, the same venue for the 2012 fixture, in which Australia outsmarted New Zealand. That was the last time Australia held the shield. The Bronze Boot, for the top- player from each side, will again be up for grabs.

Monday's kickoff times at MAGS are 1.10pm for the NZ Barbarians Schools versus Australian Schools match, and 2.55pm for NZ Schools v Fiji Schools.

NZ Schools:

Props: Rob Cobb (MAGS), Tim Farrell (Napier BHS), Damon Abraham (Sacred Heart), Xavier Numia (St Pat's Town); Hookers: Bradley Slater (New Plymouth BHS), Flynn Thomas (Southland BHS); Locks: Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa (MAGS), Laghlan McWhannell (St Peter's, Cambridge); Loose forwards: Sione Havili (Auckland Grammar), Naera Tipoki (Gisborne BHS), Hoskins Sotutu (Sacred Heart), Ajay Mua (King's), Brayden Iose (c, Palmerston North BHS); Halfbacks: Tim Hogan (Otago BHS), Carlos Price (St Kentigern); First fives: Ciarahn Matoe (King's), Harry Plummer (St Peter's, Auckland); Midfielders: Paul Roache (MAGS), Billy Proctor (St Pat's Town); Wings: Mosese Dawai (Feilding HS), Leicester Faingaanuku (Nelson), Caleb Clarke (MAGS); Fullback: Ngane Punivai (Christ's)

- NZ Herald

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