De La Salle College have ambitions of one day returning their First XV to the top of the Auckland schoolboy rugby ladder, but need to find a way to retain their top young talent.
That's the view of First XV coach David Faalili who fondly recalls the period of success between 2002 and 2009 where the school won two Auckland 1A championships and a national title.
Faalili said a return to the top, for the side currently seventh on the 1A ladder, may come in the form of the impressive crop of younger players coming through the school's junior system.
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The Under-14 and Under-15 teams have won their respective competitions for the last two years; however Faalili says the lure of bigger schools has historically made it hard for that success to cross over to the First XV space.
"The trend we 've had is we're strong in that grade and then when we do win a championship we always lose three or four players to the likes of King's College, St Peter's College or Sacred Heart College etc," Faalili said.
In recent times though, the bond formed by the De La Salle brotherhood has proven too strong to break.
"The last two or three years where we've won championships we haven't lost any players so that's been one of our big things is trying to keep them here and getting them to play for the De La Salle First XV rather than another school. Next year's the one where we're hoping to get some results from keeping all the boys here, which is why we have such a young team now." Faalili said.
"I think with them winning at a younger age they understand if they stay together they may be able to replicate the same with the First XV. I think winning the sevens as well really sealed it for some of those boys because we also won all the sevens competitions in Auckland. It's all part of the rebuilding we started a year or two ago and we're working towards this year and the next couple after that."
De La Salle College won the championship in 2003 and 2008, and lost in the 2007 final to Mount Albert Grammar School.
"That golden period would have been when the likes of Isaia Toeava and Japan internationals Hendrik Tui and Tim Lafaele were part of those squads. I think it was in the late 80s when we first came up into the 1A competition and I don't think we've been down since. The late 90s was a struggle after a change in the rugby department, but then we managed to get Nigel Hurst, who's been the head of rugby since 1998 and he's still with us.
"He was new back then and still learning the ropes, so over the first three or four years he managed to build a good coaching team. The late Geoff Moon also came over to the school and said we had the best talent, but they just didn't know how to play as a team. He joined the team in 2001 and in 2002 we made the semi-finals and then in 2003 we won a championship."
Faith is a big part of what drives the values within the team and the school motto Bonum Certamen Certa or "Fight the good fight of faith" typifies that.
"Our other values are being men of excellence and men of the community, so when we go out on the field we try to represent the school and those values." Faalili added.
This year's squad is on the younger side, with there being handful of year 13 and year 12 students scattered across and around 13 year 11s. Injuries have depleted the squad- so much so that they're currently onto their fourth choice first-five who's been plucked from the Under-15 team.
"We named a squad of 24 players at the start of the season, but I think we've used about 33 so far because of injury, so we're having to call up second and third string players now for certain positions, " Faalili said.
De La Salle is currently seventh on the 1A ladder, with two wins, a draw and two losses.
That draw was a 17-17 result against defending champions King's College, which only highlights the potential throughout the team.
Faalili says with such a young team, basic skills and decision making were the focal points at the start of the year.
"These boys are all natural run the ball and bump people off type players and half of them don't know how to draw and pass or when to pass, or when to kick. It's just about trying to drill all those unnecessary things out of their game play and trying to get them to play as a team. We see it in glimpses and then once they get tired they start to revert to what they know best and obviously they revert to running everything. We see glimpses for maybe 15 to 20 minutes a game, but we need them to be consistent and doing it for the 70 minutes week in and week out."
Number eight Wallace Sititi is the De La Salle captain and comes from excellent pedigree being the son of former Manu Samoa loose forward and captain Semo Sititi.
Faalili says Sititi is a calming influence but can also lift the team with his on field actions when needed.
"The boys are young, but when they see a leader like Wallace leading from the front it makes it easier to chip in because they're seeing their captain do everything and they just want to get in there and help him. I think he's scored in every game we've played this year and they've all been from 50 metres out. He's snatched a couple of intercepts and scored off turnover ball, he's quite quick for his size."
Faalili's sighted loosehead prop Toma Laumalili as another key leader within the First XV.
"He was one of our props from last year that's returned, but he trained really well in the off-season and got his fitness levels up and he's spent a couple of months in the gym and is in really good shape and he's been our rock in the scrum."
A number of notable De La Salle old boys are still hanging around the rugby programme trying to make a difference. Former Blues, Chiefs and Manu Samoa halfback Tino Poluleuligaga is the First XV backs coach, while current Japanese flanker Hendrik Tui's answered an SOS call to help out the lower grade and has brought along one of his international teammates who's another De La Salle alumnus.
"He's actually taking our Second XV C team. We actually have four Second XVs and were low on coaches so we sent a text out to all the old boys and so Hendrik who's stuck here because of covid-19 and can't go back to Japan offered to coach the team and Tim Lafaele's helping out so they have two Japanese internationals coaching a 2C team."