Whanganui Collegiate's standout hooker Ben Strang and his New Zealand Schools' team got their international series off to a strong start with a 43-8 victory over Fiji Schools in Hamilton this afternoon.
The only player in the 25-man squad chosen from within a Heartland union, Strang was the starting hooker under coach and former All Black Mark Hammett, following a fortnight in training camp and a game of three halves against NZ Barbarian Schools and NZ Under 18 Maori last Thursday.
Aside from the opening scrum being turned over and then penalised, Strang and his front row partners Ben Lopas (Christchurch Boys') and Tiaan Tauakipulu (Saint Kentigern) held up their opposition effectively, while at the lineout New Zealand looked to make quick throw-in's, and Strang found his jumpers.
He was replaced in the 47th minute with New Zealand leading 31-3.
That opening scrum penalty let Fiji boot into a 3-0 lead with the strong breeze behind them, but New Zealand replied quickly as their outstanding flanker Cam Church (St Kentigern) charging off a lineout to score.
Another quicking attacking lineout saw the blindside flanker Anton Segner (Nelson College) charge through the middle, before the ball was spread to powerful winger Gideon Wrampling (St Paul's Collegiate) to get the ball down in the corner.
New Zealand kept it up with another set play from the lineout seeing Wrampling rampaging towards the posts, shrugging out of the last tackle on this shoulders to dive over for his double.
Strang was then the dummy runner on the home side's next play as Church took a fantastic pass and twisted his way through tacklers for his own brace of tries and 24-3 at halftime.
Wrampling and Church then combined again after the break to just be held up over the tryline as both searched for a hat-trick , but attacking from another lineout, the winger would not be denied as he steamed onto the pass and while landing short of the line, twisted the ball over his head to plant it.
The New Zealanders ran on their reserves bench, while the Fijians became more daring on attack - missing a long range penalty attempt, but sustaining pressure to eventually score.
However, they had no answer for lightning quick reserve back Blair Murray (New Plymouth Boys'), who scored a brilliant try from just outside his own 22m after he stepped through the defensive line and dashed away under the posts, with first-five Aidan Morgan (King's College) appreciating another easier fourth conversion after missing the first two.
After a series of rucks and mauls at the line, Murray took an excellent inside pass to dive straight through for his own double near fulltime.
New Zealand will now back up with their big game this Friday afternoon against the Australia Under 18's.