A fresh poaching outbreak has led to Auckland's 1A First XV competition imposing yet tougher sanctions on pupils who switch schools.
Fearing that the six-match stand-down that was agreed in 2018 was no longer a sufficient deterrent in dissuading schools from recruiting promising rugby players, the principals of the 1A schools agreed on December 18, 2020 to increase the sanction to two years.
The Herald understands the shift to a longer stand-down was instigated after King's College recruited a pupil from St Peter's College and one from De La Salle College.
It is also understood that King's poached a Year 13 pupil from Auckland Grammar School in the first week of this school year – seemingly unaware of the change in the rules.
Consequently, the talented young player will now be unable to represent the King's First XV at all.
Since late 2018 schools in Auckland's 1A competition have had to abide by an agreed code of practice, introduced after St Kentigern College aggressively recruited a significant number of pupils who had already played First XV rugby for other schools.
It was seen as a deliberate and excessive attempt to use their ability to offer full or partial sports scholarships to entice the best players to their school – causing concern among the other institutions that not only was the competition being skewed, but the education of those switching was being compromised.
As a consequence, the other 11 schools collectively agreed a new code of practice, warning St Kent's that if they didn't sign it, no one in the competition would play against them.
King's College were also warned at the same time about their aggressive recruitment policies but it is understood they avoided the same scrutiny as a result of proactively agreeing to review their policies.
One of the key components of that code states that each school will commit to: "Not offer a student from another school's 1st XV rugby team (that is part of an NZRU sanctioned competition) or student involved in an Auckland 1A school's rugby development programme from Year 8 (that is part of an NZRU sanctioned competition) a partial or full scholarship to attend their school".
The pupils who were recruited to St Kent's in 2018 had to stand down for six matches each in 2019 and that sanction and the new code of practice appeared to have been enough to deter schools from continuing to recruit players, with no defections occurring in 2019.
But the activity by King's late last year sparked a need for a review of the code.
"At the end of the 2020 secondary school year, principals of 1A schools met to review the code of conduct and guiding principles that we agreed to in 2018," says Sacred Heart headmaster Stephen Dooley, who has been designated to speak on behalf of all the 1A schools.
"All 12 principals are signatories of the agreement and we are committed to working together in the best interests of our students and the sport.
"After two seasons working to the code a number of minor amendments were agreed to for the 2021 season as we work to continue fostering an equitable, accessible and high-quality premier rugby competition for Auckland secondary schools."
The new code states that any transferring student who was involved in another Auckland 1A school's rugby development programme from Year 8 will not be permitted to play First XV rugby for a two-year period from date of enrolment.
King's are the reigning 1A champions having won the title in 2019 – beating St Kent's in the final. Last year's competition wasn't finished due to Covid-19 and the two lockdowns.
King's College has been approached for comment by the Herald.