The head of St Kentigern College says his school's rugby programme has been endorsed at the highest levels of New Zealand Rugby.
David Hodge made the extraordinary claim in response to the news today that 10 schools will refuse to play St Kents in Auckland's 1A competition next year due to their aggressive recruitment of talent.
"I got a letter this year from New Zealand Rugby union," Hodge told Radio Sport's D'Arcy Waldegrave. "And it says: 'I would like to acknowledge the contribution made by St Kentigern College in providing opportunities to young men that not only develops them as rugby players but also affords them numerous other personal development benefits.
"'Not only does it foster their ambitions in our game, but it also affords them future prospects beyond the game'."
• Elite Auckland school St Kentigern College kicked out of top rugby competition as rivals promise boycott
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The letter is understood to have come from a senior NZ Rugby staffer and has the potential to colour any outcomes of their ongoing review into secondary schools rugby.
It is understood Hodge has used the letter in meetings with other principals who are trying to regulate player movement in schoolboy rugby and it has been received poorly by those schools.
St Kents, the fee-paying independent school, admitted to recruiting five senior elite players from rival 1st XVs to bolster their squad for 2019 after being knocked out in the 1A semifinals this year by eventual champions St Peter's College.
"It's a serious issue and it needed a serious response," Mt Albert Grammar School principal Patrick Drumm told the Herald. "We needed to take a strong leadership stand as a recruitment strategy like this is not what school sport should be about.
"The integrity and credibility of the competition is challenged by targeting elite players from around the country. We felt the time was right to try to have a moral and ethical discussion and while we had a positive meeting with King's that wasn't the case with St Kents."
In a letter written to Hodge on December 3, the principals wrote:
"The 10 schools who have led the conversations with you are now of the view that they have given you fair opportunity to respond. It is the immediate decision of each of our schools that in 2019 our 1st XV rugby teams will not now compete against St Kentigern College."
The position of the 10 Auckland schools has been broadly supported across the country.
Napier Boys' High School principal Matthew Bertram said what St Kents had been doing was "brazen" and unprecedented and the Super 8 schools he was chair of supported the move.
Napier BHS, who made the final of the national champs this year, have seen their halfback "recruited" by St Kents for next season and although it was disappointing, Bertram said the issue was wider than that.
"They'll [St Kents] just say the family approached them," Bertram said. "That's their party line."
Hodge said St Kents was being unfairly targeted because of their success. He also said the schools had acted out of self-interest and without the consent of College Sport, the body that administers school sport in Auckland.
"The crux of the issue is simply that each school is allowed six players new to school in the team each year. And each school generally has those six players come in. Their problem is that our players are better than their players. And that's really the crux of the issue and they don't like that because they say that it gives us an unfair advantage.
"They very wrongly - and we've addressed this with them - accused us of recruiting players. We don't recruit players because we don't need to. We get dozens and dozens of aspiring young rugby players through their families apply to come here every year. We only accept those that we believe will benefit from our programme, and of course we as a school will benefit from them being here.
"It's quite clear that the reason that so many young boys and their families want to come to St Kentigern is because of the quality of the education that they get here."
Hodge says he will ask NZ Rugby to step in and deal with the matter.
"New Zealand Rugby have a responsibility to ensure that rugby is flourishing. This sort of dispute does rugby no service whatsoever.
"It's certainly going to have a very disappointing impact on our young rugby players in the interim. I would like to think that the rugby union would feel like they could get involved."
NZ Rugby chief rugby officer Nigel Class said they are working to provide assistance and act as peacemaker between the warring schools.
"We are continuing to work with Auckland Rugby to provide advice and guidance as to how they can assist with a resolution on this matter," Class said in a statement.
"We're obviously disappointed that the schools have not been able to find a resolution on their own, but we are all conscious that the way forward needs to ensure the best outcome – including a positive rugby experience in 2019 - for everyone.
"New Zealand Rugby has conducted a review of secondary schools rugby in New Zealand, a piece of work to be considered by the New Zealand Rugby Board this month. Player movement was one of the areas highlighted as a concern in that review, and there will be recommendations that look to address this."