First XV rugby is back - and so is the Herald's weekly look at the top matches of the upcoming weekend and the players to watch. Today, Reuben Mama, profiles last season's 1A champions, King's College, and their preparation that has been hampered by the Covid-19-enforced delay to the season.
King's College Head of Rugby Scott Palmer admits there was a fear they wouldn't get a chance to defend their Auckland 1A First XV rugby title this year due to the disruptive nature of the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are very grateful to be back out there. There was a time when we thought playing rugby this year could not happen at all, so we're grateful to get things back and we've got a full round robin and the opportunity to play all of our traditional matches and play in a 1A competition. It's what these boys love doing ... playing for their colleges with all that passion and pride," Palmer said.
"It's great for them to be out there and great for their well-being, especially those year 13 boys who at one stage thought they wouldn't be out there representing their colleges this year."
King's triumphed for the first time since 2005 when they toppled St Kentigern College 29-22 in last year's final.
They have 16 members of the 2019 squad returning, while six of them started in the final.
"We're quite fortunate that we've maintained continuity in our coaching staff and players. That really helps in terms of what we want to do and players understanding where we've been and where we want to go.
"A lot of them already know a lot of our processes and what our programme is about. The most important thing is work ethic and making sure there's no substitute for hard work."
A revised competition means there are no finals this season and the 12 schools will all play each other once - with the top team at the end of the round robin deemed champions.
Palmer knows King's College have an even bigger target on their backs this season, but they're embracing the opportunity to be even better by trying to go back-to-back.
"We've been there or thereabouts the last two seasons and as a squad we talk about continually being up there and trying to perform to our best week in and week out," he said.
"That evolves a lot this year because with no playoffs every game is important. You have to go out there and play every game at your max and perform to get that result."
King's open their campaign away to St Peter's College on Saturday.
"There's no better way to start the 1A for us than to play one of our traditional rivals in The Cage, so we can't wait to get down there and play them.
"We've had some good tussles with them over the years and I'm sure they'll be pretty angry after last year's 50-point hiding so they'll come out firing."
This weekend's fixtures:
Auckland 1A, Round One – Saturday 27th April:
Saint Kentigern College vs Tangaroa College: Saint Kentigern College: Field 1 – 1pm
De La Salle College vs Kelston Boys' High School: De La Salle College: Field 1- 2:30pm
Aorere College vs Mt Albert Grammar: Aorere College: Field 1- 2:30pm
St Peter's College vs King's College: St Peter's College: Field 1- 2:30pm
Auckland Grammar vs Dilworth School: Auckland Grammar School: Field 1- 2:30pm
Liston College vs Sacred Heart College: Liston College: Field 1- 2:30pm