School sport has the power to be a transformative force for good in the lives of teenagers.

As we have seen with the extraordinary fight between the principals of 10 schools in the 1A Auckland rugby competition and St Kentigern College left unchecked, sport can also invite the worst aspects of professionalism through the school gates.

The head of St Kents, David Hodge, feels his school has been unfairly singled out and maligned and, while he might have grounds for complaint, he is also conveniently missing the most important point: What should schoolboy rugby look like?

What the vast majority of observers are saying is that it shouldn't look like it does now, with success in the secondary schools arena connected to money and the ability to recruit players from other schools. Rugby, at that level at least, should look more like a meritocracy than a plutocracy.


One of the most telling quotes in the saga came from a coach of more than 25 years, who has recently switched to schools rugby after coaching at professional level for close to two decades.

"In 10 years' time we're going to be dealing with the fallout from this," the coach, who was not authorised by his school to talk on the record, said. "Those ideals of putting your hand up, not out, getting what you earn, they're all going. Instead we're developing mercenaries who say, 'What's in it for me?'

"This is far bigger than New Zealand schools rugby… we're implementing and endorsing a system that's corrupting the game by selling its soul."

Those words alone should be a clarion call for strong leadership on the issue, but that is more difficult than it sounds. Where should that leadership come from?

History suggests it will not come from College Sport, the body that administers secondary school sport in Auckland. The kindest word you could use to describe their response to the St Kents' boycott story is evasive.

It likely won't come from Auckland Rugby which is probably quite pleased that St Kents and King's College do their recruitment heavy lifting by getting players from outside the province to come to the City of Sails.

New Zealand Rugby would love to have a stronger leadership stake, but it comes with a cautionary note. Many involved in schoolboy rugby believe the national union's interest in their product is commercial rather than altruistic.

At the moment the leadership is coming from the principals of the schools involved and it is where it should remain. It is incumbent upon them, however, to get every school on the same page, from decile one co-ed state schools, to traditional single-sex schools, to Catholic schools, to cashed-up independents.


It is clear secondary schools rugby needs a stronger charter and rules that make the transferring of talent between schools far more difficult.

The schools that benefit from these talent drives are always keen to talk up the "opportunities" they provide. They are never so keen to engage on the topic of opportunity cost, and what it means to the schools these talented kids leave, what it means to the teammates they leave behind, and what it means to the kids at their own schools who work to make the 1st XV and then are trumped by new recruits.

Again, it comes back to the fundamental question: Is that what we want school rugby to look like? No it is not.