College Rugby Success on the Line at Top Four Championship

0
Southland Girls High School Black v Central Southland College
INVERCARGILL, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 07: Brooke Churstain (L) of Southland Girls looks to fend off Karlee Cruickshank of Central during the High School Rugby match between Southland Girls High School Black and Central Southland College at Centre Point on August 7, 2017 in Invercargill, New Zealand. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

Once again, New Zealand’s best college rugby sides will converge on Palmerston North for the Top Four Championship. The regional winners in the Boys, Girls, and Boys from Co-ed schools will meet to decide their respective national championships, with the champion boys team being presented with the Barbarians Cup.

In recent years there’s been something of an explosion in the interest of the college game. Greatly aided by increased coverage of games on Sky Sport, but also access through live-streaming. Matches can then be followed by both families, friends and more formally, live in the schools hall.

Aside from the silverware, with the additional pathways available to the very best players competing – New Zealand Schools, U20’s Championships, and a leg-up into the professional sport of rugby – that has all in turn led to increased pressure to perform. And to add to this as well; and perhaps the most controversial decision affecting recent tournaments, that players in the Boys competition will be subject to random drug testing this year.

Those pathways can be even faster today for the stand-out Girls, as evidenced that within weeks of leading her Southland Girls side to the title, Alena Saili (see picture below), was a key component of the Black Ferns Seven’s squad.

New Zealand’s Alena Saili (L) is tackled by Australia’s Charlotte Caslick (C). (Photo credit THIERRY ZOCCOLAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The chance for instant elevation could come for any of the young sports people in attendance, such is the high level of interest and rich history, that this Top Four Championship tournament holds.

College Rugby Success on the Line at 2017 Top Four Championship

The rotation of opponents this year pits the winners of the Blues region against their Hurricanes counterparts and the Chiefs champions against the South Island representatives, in all three competitions.

Boys Competition

In the Boys draw, it sets up the potential of a third ‘blockbuster clash’ between the two best sides in the country – Hastings Boys and Hamilton Boys – more than likely, in the final.

Undoubtedly, Hastings Boys are the consensus top team in the country. Having regularly steamrolled opposing sides all year, losing just once in the past two years; that was last year’s national championship final, when they went down 13-14 to Auckland’s Mount Albert Grammar. While the merits of having a number of Year 14 students (those returning for an additional year at school) is debatable, they are a class outfit.

Hamilton Boys return to the Top Four and have just the one defeat on their record this year – a 16-20 loss to Hastings in their Super 8 competition round-robin. They then drew with them 12-all in that competition’s final a week later. They are the only school to have even gotten close to the Hawke’s Bay school this year.

To reach this stage, Hastings thrashed Wellington College 78-0, and then an early blitz that had them 26-0 up inside 15 minutes saw them beat another Wellington side, St Patricks Silverstream 47-17 in the Hurricanes final. Hamilton progressed after beating Wesley College 36-0, and 2015 champions Rotorua Boys 31-8.

Competition at it’s Height in Boys Draw

Standing in the way of that ‘dream final’ on Sunday are their opponents in Friday’s semi-finals. Southland Boys High repeated as South Island champions, beating traditional rivals Otago Boys at the death 29-27, and then Christchurch Boys 36-31. They’ll hope that playing in the Otago Colts (U21) comp provides the level of preparation they need, and for better performances than those they turned in last year. They face Hamilton.

The only ‘new’ team in the quartet is Auckland powerhouse St Kentigern’s College, who have won his title in the past. Winners of the vaunted Auckland 1A competition where they came from behind to beat Sacred Heart 26-19, they reclaimed the Blues crown in beating North Harbour 1A winners Rosmini College 46-21. Their reward is a clash with Hastings.

Wesley Tameifuna of St Kentigern makes a break during the Auckland Schoolboy rugby match between Sacred Heart College and St. Kentigern College at Sacred Heart College on May 14, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Girls Competition

Like the Boys, three of the four teams return from last years championship with the only change being the side out of the Blues region. That side is Southern Cross Campus, who like St Kent’s reclaimed that title, and did so in beating last years winners Kaipara College. They’ll face last years runners-up and Hurricanes winners St Mary’s College. The Wellington school return with most of the same 2016 side, and beat Manawatu winners Manukura 31-10 in the regional final.

The other side of the draw pits the defending champions Southland Girls (see main picture) against Chiefs winners Hamilton Girls. This should be a good contest. Southland booked their place by beating Christchurch Girls 38-5, while Hamilton saw off a spirited challenge from Tauranga Girls, before winning 12-10.

With the recent success of the Black Ferns at the Women’s rugby World Cup, a focus by New Zealand Rugby on the female component of rugby will see these girls afforded a bright pathway towards their dreams. Some of the young women playing in Palmerston North, will [now more than ever] have a chance of likely one day wearing the silver fern.

Co-Ed Schools Competition

The third championship on offer is that for Boys First XV’s from co-educational schools, which are often at a disadvantage compared to the single-sex schools. Teams have to declare which side they will enter early in the season, with some of the larger schools eligible for this. That includes St Kent’s (a past winner) and Mount Albert Grammar (last years national champions) who elected to go down the route to the main prize. That however should take nothing away from these sides, who are fine boys teams in their own right.

The Co-ed 2017 draw has the only true ‘new face’ in the Top Four Championship. Blues winners Rangitoto College have had an banner season. Beaten semi-finalists in their 1A and then knocked off Auckland school – and last years national runners-up – Aorere College, 11-8 to head to their first Top Four.

They’ll face the defending champions Feilding High, who are the perennial winners of the Hurricanes region. Although they were almost upset by unherald Porirua College in last Saturdays regional final.

The other match-up puts two past winners of this title against each other; with Christchurch’s St Andrews College – who thrashed St Peters, Gore 81-7. They will find themselves opposing St Peters College, Cambridge. They likewise handily beat their regional opponents, Rotorua’s Western Heights, by 43-0. Both attacking sides, the challenge for the co-ed title might come down to who values defense, as much as all out attack.

________________________________________________________________________

The action kicks off on Friday in Palmerston North, home of the Sport and Rugby Institute. This is the development hub of rugby for the national body. The host of both the secondary schools championship and other large tournaments [previously including the Sir Gordon Tietjens Sevens and Jock Hobbs Memorial Under 20 championship].

Friday, the school boys and girls will match each other on the field. And some will take further steps towards their dreams. Steps that others will see, will note down and their names will be in the conversation for further honours.

The names of former players to go onto bigger things is a who’s-who of New Zealand rugby. And of course, there is school pride. That lasts a lifetime.

This weekend, new memories and dreams look set to come true, in the Top Four Championships.

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||[]).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:’HNCYa-bxTgtMNNaZivc2-Q’,sig:’pkmVH2LyeHI0oOGtlkZUwXcTHuo5yoJXfNEhhNydgos=’,w:’594px’,h:’396px’,items:’827159290′,caption: true ,tld:’co.nz’,is360: false })});

LEAVE A REPLY