Auckland A1 Rugby looks to Arbitration to resolve St Kent's boycott threat
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 18: TJ Faiane of St Kentigerns looks to offload during the Secondary School 1st XV Final between St Kentigern and Auckland Grammar at Eden Park on August 18, 2012 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Simon Watts/Getty Images)

With the omen of schools threatening to boycott next year’s Auckland 1A Rugby fixtures against Saint Kentigern College; due to alleged player recruitment tactics that have other schools crying foul, College Sport Auckland is looking at arbitration to settle the vocal arguments.

Five players are at the heart of an alleged schoolboy rugby ‘poaching’ strategy by Saint Kentigern (St Kent’s) College. The leading Auckland private school has upset opposition schools and Principals, with the new names being rushed into St Kent’s first XV.

The arguments over eligibility, in focus the policy and rules over schools enticing young men with scholarship programs, that then bolster team’s strength, is boiling over in the Auckland 1A Rugby competition.

And to this end, the in-fighting has now seen public indignation of many schools strategies, this week making national news, resulting in New Zealand Rugby offering to mediate, in a bid to reduce the effect on the powerful Auckland High School-age grade competition.

Auckland 1A Rugby – toughest schoolboy competition

Within the national schoolboy rugby system, the Auckland 1A Rugby championship is one of the strongest. With such heralded schools and colleges, as St Peters College [2018 champions], Kelston Boys High School, Mount Albert Grammar School, and many others who have held aloft the prestigious Auckland 1A Rugby title.

Yet with the building saga that surrounds the proposed boycott of St Kentigern in the 2019 season, the focus has shifted from the field, to the recruitment practices of the whole school age rugby system. One where enticing boys and girls from other regions, has the benefit of boosting other schools first XV teams – at the sacrifice of others efforts.

That is at the heart of the current argument. That St Kent’s has imported several leading players from outside of Auckland; from Napier Boys High School and Rotorua Boys High School, that is to the detriment of the contributing schools, and will most certainly benefit the first XV strength of St Kent’s.

On hearing of the higher than usual recruitment numbers, the NZ Herald reported that Auckland schools have since created a document about rules and conduct. And those teams competing in the Auckland 1A Rugby competition had to agree to; regarding poaching and welfare.

St Kents refused to sign it, and as a consequence, ten schools have agreed that unless College Sport enforces these conditions on St Kent’s [concerning their use of the five recruited players] that, those schools and several schools in the National Schools competition, will boycott scheduled matches against St Kentigerns, as a protest.

In reaction to the wave of news this week, Jim Lonergan, chief executive of College Sport Auckland, was quoted as saying “A school has asked me to investigate – that’s all I can say on the matter,”

Note: College Sport administers the rules and bylaws of all sports conducted, within the Auckland region.

Support ‘for and against’ SchoolBoy Rugby recruitment

While the actions of one or more Auckland schools have hit the rugby-headlines, former players and members of schools within the catchment of the Auckland 1A Rugby competition, have weighed in on the subject. Rieko Ioane, the current All Black winger, and one time star of the competition.

His views, and those of former St Kents players Jerome Kaino, TJ Faiane (see main picture), Etene Nanai Seturo, and others, sheds light on how popular school age rugby is in New Zealand (and across the Rugby World). It is the birthplace of champions, and where the public would hope, that schools act honourably in their recruitment actions.

Yet like in so many other sports around New Zealand and over the years, recruitment and the use of schoarships, has brought benefit to many. Kids from the countryside, move into bigger cities like Christchurch, Dunedin or Wellington. Families immigrate from the Pacific Islands, with hopes that their sons and daughters can benefit from a better education – and those boys and girls’ parents sacrifice much, to contribute to the costs of education.

Former All Blacks, World Cup winning coach Sir Graham Henry was the headmaster at Kelston Boys High. Like others, Kelston offered boys from outside of Auckland; and around the Pacific, scholarships, to offer educational opportunities.

A by-product has always been sport. And with Henry also the first XV head coach, some of the boys would add to the strength of his team – although the recruitment practices of teams in the 1990’s was in the amateur era. Today the likely riches that await boys like Nico Jones, means that teams like Mt Albert Grammar and St Kents are under the microscope.

Clear policy can minimize accusations and possible Boycott

Some hope that new guidelines can be introduced, to minimize future arguments but, Last Word on Rugby believe that competition, and the aspirational hopes of school boys and girls (and their families in New Zealand or across the Pacific) will always see them emigrate into successful programs. St Kentigern College maybe guilty of being ‘too attractive’ a step-up for several of the boys at the center of the Auckland 1A Rugby argument.

Yet, nobody would want to limit those boys (and others) opportunities.

That would be negative and limiting on the natural catchment of schools. Sports departments, be it rugby, football or netball, will all prosper when new players are brought in from the outside. It is just critical that the enticements/practices and actions of all recruitment officers for Auckland schools, are ethical.

Without the security of that fact, and if Auckland Rugby, College Sport Auckland and New Zealand Rugby cannot minimize the fallout of the Auckland 1A rugby discussion, then the losers in this argument will be the players.

That factor should be paramount in all discussions that ‘hopefully’ lead to resolution of any possible boycott from the objecting schools next season.

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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