In his weekly wrap, Bruce Holloway looks at all the big talking points across the Auckland schoolboy rugby competition.
Don't read too much into Auckland 1A first XV rugby leaders St Peter's College being rolled by Christchurch's St Bede's College.
That's the message from St Peter's coach Dave Thomas, as his team works on extending its five-match winning run and three-point lead at the top of the Auckland competition on Saturday, when it faces eighth-placed Dilworth at The Cage.
In a week where the Blues lost to the Crusaders, Auckland rugby pride was – in some eyes at least - further dented by St Peter's losing 20-12 to a St Bede's team which sits a mere fourth in Canterbury's first XV competition.
"Anything I say will sound like an excuse and there is no question the best side won on the day," Thomas said of a match where St Bede's reclaimed the Peter Watt-Brian Dunne Challenge Cup which is contested annually between the schools.
"But they were coming off a bye and were fresh while we were pretty much just off the plane.
"We never travel more than about 15 minutes in our own competition and were well below our usual strength with six starting boys out.
"We were aware we were travelling south as competition leaders and we also know that put an extra target on out backs.
"They definitely out-passioned us. It was all new for us, we lost focus and we didn't adapt well."
There will be no shortage of focus when St Peter's face eighth-placed Dilworth at The Cage.
De La Salle's inside knowledge
De La Salle first XV coach Bond Tagaloa is sitting on priceless inside knowledge in preparing his fifth-placed team to host sixth-placed St Kentigern. Tagaloa coached St Kent's second XV last year and expects at least six players from that team to be fronting for one of the feature matches of the round.
It's an important game for De La Salle, which probably has an easier end-of-season run in than several other top-four candidates, but currently sits just outside the top four.
De La Salle will have star first five Peni Otukolo back on deck after he was taken off in the 20th minute last week with a shoulder injury in the 17-10 loss to Sacred Heart.
Otukolo had been exerting a big influence on play until he was subbed, Along with players of the day, No 8 Eddie Ieremia and lock Murray Church, he will again need to be at his best against an improving St Kentigern team, which beat Dilworth 22-0.
Most first XV players have adjusted seamlessly to new rules this season, though admittedly they haven't had to make quite the same number of adjustments as at lower levels, where the high ball can no longer be contested aerially and there is no lifting in the lineouts.
One particularly popular rule is the 50:22 law – when a kick made by the team in their own half lands in the field of play and goes out inside the opposition 22, the team who kicked the ball is rewarded with a line out (as in rugby league).
Tagaloa reckons the new rules have helped the game get faster, and that in turn is developing new levels of skill in players.
"The game is always evolving as coaches and players find ways to adjust to the rules in a strong competition," Tagaloa said, pointing to how his team grabbed a couple of 50:22s and Sacred Heart one last Saturday through attacking plays that weren't in anybody's repertoire last winter.
"It has also shown that there are some exceptional kickers out there."
Tough in Otara
Life is tough and the choices are stark in the lower regions of the 1A competition.
Take the case of 10th placed Tangaroa college, which has had three losses on the trot - the latest being a 44-0 loss to defending champs Kelston – ahead of hosting Auckland Grammar in a Friday match.
"We just don't have the numbers," Tangaroa coach Saua Leaupepetele lamented. "Last week I had 18 boys and 19 the week before (as opposed to a full squad of 22)."
"Tangaroa, which has the inbuilt disadvantage of having a relatively small school roll, has found it exceptionally tough with the flu, Covid and even student suspensions.
But Leaupepetele said there was still hunger.
"It seems like there are big life lessons every week. We just try to take the learnings from our games and build on them the following week.
"We have to stay positive. The boys appreciate their are playing in a very tough competition and still train hard.
"We are trying hard to get out of this rut we are in but there are no easy answers, though our set pieces have improved."
Leaupepetele said in his situation there was little coaching advantage to be found in studying opponents who had been on display on Sky TV the previous week.
"For us it is just another week at the office. We have so many other things to look out for."
Otara's Tangaroa College has never had a televised match.
Meanwhile wins have been in short supply for once-proud Grammar who sit in an unfamiliar ninth place on the table, just one spot ahead of Tangaroa.
The opposition trap
Mt Albert Grammar's Tony Hanks is another coach who has had the luxury of studying Sky broadcast footage from last week of his 1A opponents. In his case it is King's College, who beat Auckland Grammar 15-3 in a well contested but error-ridden match.
However Hanks warned it can be a trap to spend all your time looking at the opposition.
"It can make you aware of key threats and key players, but at schoolboy level that can change markedly from week to week anyway," he said.
"You can also find yourself guilty of looking in too much depth at them rather than focusing on what your own team does."
However anyone who does check the footage will see King's skipper and second-five Francis Manulelua was highly influential and it was fitting that his through kick created what proved to be a killer second half try for Harry Kaveriri It gave King's their first win over Grammar since 2019.
Liston attract praise
A glance at the points table would suggest Liston College are in even more strife than Tangaroa, having lost all five of their matches, including last week's narrow 10-16 loss to Mt Albert Grammar.
But Liston continue to attract high praise from the teams that beat them.
"Liston got stuck in and were genuinely deserving of a close finish against us," Mt Albert Grammar coach Tony Hanks said after his team shaded them 16-10. "They are well coached and hungry and don't be surprised if they do get a big result in the next few weeks."
Best for Mt Albert Grammar in the Liston match was loose forward and skipper Riki Ruben.
Saturday draw (home team first, all 2.30pm): De La Salle v St Kentigern; Kelston Boys' High v Liston College; Kings College v Mt Albert Grammar; St Peter's v Dilworth.
Friday, 12 noon: Tangaroa College v Auckland Grammar.
Points (after 5 rounds): St Peter's 23, Sacred Heart 20, Mt Albert Grammar 18, Kelston 18, De La Salle 14, St Kentigern 13, King's College 13, Dilworth 11, Auckland Grammar 9, Tangaroa 4, Liston 1, Aorere 0.