School pride is showcased in tough competition as Baywide secondary school rugby begins today. Muddy uniforms, haka and parent-laden sidelines are as much a part of the game as scrums, lineouts and breakdowns and, with a long season ahead, champions take their first steps to glory across the Bay.The hard yards of pre-season training are complete, squads have been selected and anticipation levels are at a high. We talk to two Baywide first division teams about what lies in front of them, and what the early part of the season looks like.
Aquinas College face first-round test
Aquinas College's first XV have put in plenty of work in the off-season and have a big test to start the season today.
They play Division One defending champions John Paul College and at Tuesday's training session on the school grounds players endured the brutality of the yo-yo endurance test.
The intensity of the yo-yo can only be truly appreciated if you are the one striving to make the line before the dreaded beep.
For those 1990s high schoolers it was called the beep test, and it involves running about 20m with the aim of reaching the line before or on the beep. After a short rest, this process is repeated with the time-frame allowed for each run gradually reduced. Miss a couple of beeps and the player drops off. It is brutal stuff. But there was no grizzling from the Aquinas players as they emptied the tank to make it as far as they could. This was all done before they got stuck into training.
Aquinas have former All Black Kevin Schuler coaching this year. He has also performed coaching stints with Bay of Plenty, the Chiefs and Japanese side Yamaha Jubilo. Schuler was an uncompromising loose forward in his playing days and sees the importance of skillsets outside of what the players do on the field.
"School rugby is pretty awesome. These guys are great mates, they have been right through a school system, and some have been buddies since they were 5 or 6-year-olds. They really are sponges, they are keen to learn. As with any teenagers they can be challenging with their concentration span, but they are an awesome group."
While the team worked hard at training on the finer points of lineouts and defence, with the standard measure of raw athleticism and schoolboy jokes, Schuler says there is a simplicity to the game.
"At the end of the day, if you have the ball in your hand you can only run with it, kick it or pass it – you don't have that many choices. It is about getting them to see the cues.
"Historically we have been a smaller team. As a rule we play a bit more of an expansive game and a thinking game. They don't back away from the contact but we also need to know the best way to build our game. We want to be fit and move the ball quickly from the breakdown and that requires a bit of organisation."
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As for the yo-yo test, Schuler has taken some French inspiration for the team's approach to conditioning.
"They know they will have fitness testing and we use an old Napoleon quote: 'Fatigue makes cowards of everyone'. If you can't last 70 minutes of high school rugby you are going to be dropping your head. You also get a huge amount of confidence out of more fitness."
Aquinas captain Marshall Barker says he is looking forward to getting back on the field.
"We have a good squad this year and most of the boys are returning from last year. We definitely haven't got the biggest team this year, but the boys have been working hard in the off-season. We have to represent the school well on and off the field.
"I want to see our boys get into the structure this game, we haven't really been doing it too well in pre-season."
Western Heights will rebuild
In Rotorua, Western Heights High School first XV coach Dyllon Pedersen says his players are in a rebuilding year and their first task is against the Rotorua Boys' High School Babas. The cyclical nature of secondary school sport has hit Western Heights hard as Pedersen says 90 per cent of last year's team have left the school.
"It is about seeing how well our young boys go. We will base our game plan around facing bigger teams, but it will be more of a development sort of year. In saying that we have set goals we can strive towards. We are going week to week until we see how our year will pan out."
A decline in numbers has also made the development pathway to first XV rugby somewhat disjointed.
"We haven't had a second XV for a few years now. Most have come through from under-15 level which is tough. Going from under-15s you have to keep them focused for the whole training. That is just time with the team and developing that culture and they are an energetic bunch that are willing to learn.
"We train as if we playing the greatest team in the world. We work on what we need to work on, things like team structures and game plans and getting their heads around different situations.
"The excitement is seeing them step up, the ability is there, and whether we can hone their skills and get their confidence levels to the level to perform in the first XV."
Bay of Plenty Rugby Union secondary school rugby manager Ian Parata says the pride of school rugby is a big part of the competition.
"The absolute passion and desire to put on school colours and represent the first XV, you would think they were putting on an All Black jersey. It is encouraging in the day of professionalism to see that.
"As we keep preaching to coaches and managers, it is not about the end result but the performance on Saturday and what they take away from it. The whole ethos is about giving kids a positive environment to play in and them being the best young people they can be.
"The Bay is known to throw the ball around and that is what we get on Saturdays. Kids get the ball wider and play expansive footy. It is exciting rugby."
Last year's Division One runners-up, Te Wharekura o Mauao, have dropped down to the second division and Parata says the union wants to accommodate teams that may have had players leave so that the competition is as balanced as possible.
Baywide secondary school first-round games:
Tauranga Boys' College II v Rotorua Boys' High School II
Rotorua Boys' High School Babas v Western Heights High School
Aquinas College v John Paul College
Tauhara College v Trident High School
Taupō Nui a Tia v Te Puke High School
Ōtūmoetai College v Tauranga Boys' College III
KatikatiCollege v Te Wharekura o Mauao
Opotiki College v Papamoa College
Bethlehem College v Rotorua Boys' High School IV
Trident High School II v Mt Maunganui College
Tongariro School v Tauranga Boys' College Blue
Murupara Area School v Tarawera High School
Whakatāne High School vs Tauhara College
Taupō Nui A Tia v Rotorua Boys' High School Red
Western Heights High School v Trident High School
Rotorua Boys' High School Blue v Tauranga Boys' College White
Te Wharekura o Mauao/Aquinas v Tauranga Boys' College Blue
Tauranga Boys' College Black v Ōtūmoetai College/Bethlehem College
Rotorua Boys' High School Red v Tauranga Boys' College Blue
Tauranga Boys' College White v Mount Maunganui College
Te Puke High School v Taupō combined
Trident High School v Whakatāne High School
Tauranga Boys' College Gold v Western Heights High School
Taupō Nui A Tiav Rotorua Boys' High School Blue
Defending Baywide secondary school champions:
Division one: John Paul College
Division two: Tauhara College
Under-15 premiership: Tauranga Boys' College White
Under-15 championship: Trident High School
Under-14: Tauranga Boys' College White