First XV rugby is back - and so is the Herald's weekly look at the top teams and the players to watch. Today, Reuben Mama profiles St Peter's College.
At St Peter's College in Auckland, 1st XV coach Dave Thomas is trying to use the past to inspire the future generation both on and off the rugby field.
There has long been a stigma around the typical 1st XV player within a successful rugby school - that academics often take a seat at the back of the classroom.
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This is something Thomas and the rest of the staff are trying to remove within the St Peter's environment.
"It's a stereotype that follows rugby in general, whether the boys are 13 years old or 18 years old. Unfortunately that's something that's difficult to shake. The boys are expected to maintain a high attendance rate and high standards in the classroom, which includes academic results. We make it clear to the boys and it's almost a bit of a shock when a year 11 or year 12 comes into the team and we talk about if someone is in trouble at school and their marks are slipping in the classroom that rugby will be removed," Thomas explains.
"That's a message we make sure we follow through on and we've had boys in the past be stood down from playing on a Saturday due to their exam results or homework not being up to standard. We're very strict, have high standards and probably the most important thing to note is we're a school first. Rugby is a byproduct of our school, but it's not the be all and end all, so we make sure we have certain standards and expectations in the classroom and those flow onto the sports field as well.
"It is really important for us and while I can't speak for every school, but I do know there's a frustration that the perception around 1st XV 1A is that schools just bring players into their school willy-nilly and they just turn up to eat their lunch and train, and that's the most important thing. That's definitely not the case in all of our boys."
Thomas notes the school's strong association with their former students as something used to improve the team's – and the school's – current culture
One of those old boys is All Blacks and Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu, whose brother Tito is St Peter's captain. Thomas says Tuipulotu's always generous with his time and relays important messages to students.
"Patrick always talks about his journey and how he got to where he is and I think it highlights for a lot of the younger boys the reality of what it does take - it's not all glitz and glamour.
"Patrick talks about the hard work and difficult times he had to go through as well. He was a basketball player and toing and froing with his rugby, so it wasn't until his last year of rugby where he really took it with both hands and went on to make representative teams.
"We have year seven and eight students at school as well, so for the younger boys to see someone like that around school who's spoken at assemblies and to have the likes of Vince Aso, Harry Plummer and Bryn Hall, builds up the sense of pride and appreciation for old boys showing their pride and loyalty to the school."
St Peter's finished in fifth in the 1A competition last year and opened their current campaign with a 22-0 defeat to defending champions King's College, before hanging on to overcome Kelston Boys' High School 27-21 before the holiday break.
Knowing they too could follow in some of their high profile alumni's footsteps, Thomas is looking to his year 13s to continue leading the team, and lists some of his side's pivotal players.
"Tito Tuipulotu is our captain who plays number eight for us. He started in the 2018 national final as a year 11 when we won it against Napier Boys' High School. He's a quiet guy, but a very intelligent, physical rugby player.
"Then we have Ben Fuhinui, our halfback. He's a smart player, fast and has a good skillset. He's quite a pivotal player for us and we're a different team with and without him.
"AJ Faleafaga's at first-five. He also started in the 2018 national final as a year 11, so he's vice-captain. He's developing and building his game too and when he's firing for us it has a knock-on effect. Dhynzel Pritchard is our second-five and is actually the most capped St Peter's player of all time with 42 caps - in my humble opinion I'd have him as one of the best defensive players in the competition.
"Our tighthead prop Salesi Tuifua is our anchor. He's just come back from ACL surgery and the late start of the 1A competition has played into his hands."
St Peter's are next in action at home next Saturday, against Sacred Heart College.