COMMENT

There may be some confusion in parental circles as to why a stance is now being taken against the practice of poaching when it has been rife for decades.

Anyone with even a vague knowledge of school sport in Auckland knows that schools bend and break the rules all the time in regard to enticing and recruiting students.

Kids across the city change institutions under the facade of seeking or being offered a better education when everyone knows they are switching to bolster the sporting pedigree of their new school.

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The Herald exposed this in 2013 with a major investigative series into the practices, cultures and levels of investment in First XV rugby.

The picture back then had a worrying taint as it was clear there was a split emerging between the haves and have nots.

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The private schools and also the Catholic schools had the mechanisms in place to lure the best players and the means by which to fund the coaching and physical resources required to get ahead of the state schools.

That had always been the case but what was apparent in 2013 was the eroding ethics and morals of the institutions with the capacity to recruit.

The boundaries were being pushed.

The Herald learned that a number of secondary schools were actively targeting students at intermediate school.

It was the volume of children moving around that was most alarming and the inescapable conclusion reached that recruitment was no longer just predatory, it was big business.

There were detailed recruitment strategies in place and jobs exclusively designated to finding the next big thing.

There were directors of rugby – not qualified teachers – earning significantly more than qualified teachers and specialist conditioning and skills coaches that meant some schools were better resourced than most Mitre 10 Cup teams.

It was apparent that there were too many adults in too many schools whose moral compass had gone on the blink.

The idea of going to school to gain an education had been virtually lost in some schools and St Kents did seem to be the one most comfortable with the idea they were unashamedly building professional rugby players and therefore didn't appear to particularly care how these students performed academically.

Their business model seemed to be that they were willing to buy rugby success in the hope it would attract fee-paying students.

Presumably, it works for them – that they shell out scholarships to the best rugby talent and effectively buy success.

Constantly winning the 1A championship is their marketing tool and so with the entire business dependent on the First XV winning, is it any wonder St Kent's embarked on an unprecedented recruitment drive after failing this year?

And that's why action has finally been taken by the other 1A schools and the decision reached to boycott St Kents next year.

Everyone is in agreement that a line has been crossed and that while poaching is rife and has gone on for an age, this sort of overt, aggressive, brazen recruitment is so lacking in ethics and morals that it can't be tolerated.

St Kents have hand-picked five highly developed, already elite players to join their ranks next year.

This is targeted, deliberate almost cynical behaviour by an institution that is supposed to be in the business of instilling within young men and women a value system and code of ethics that allow them to be good people.

These students have been offered full scholarships for one reason only – to strengthen the St Kents First XV and the other 1A schools are no longer prepared to buy the argument that the shift is about access to a better all-round education.

That line has worn thin and the other schools in the 1A believe they have no choice now but to boycott St Kents to protect the integrity and credibility of the competition.

To do nothing would be to send the most powerful message that the best way to respond to adversity is to find a loophole in the rules and exploit it.

When every other school has a disappointing season they respond by working harder – of looking at ways to improve through innovation and dedication.

But St Kents have responded with a course of action that may be within the laws of the competition but is clearly questionable given what is at stake is the emotional well-being of teenagers.

What is at stake is their education and that surely has to be considered a higher priority than winning a rugby competition.