10 Sep 2019

Tuesday 10 September 2019

Last Wednesday, the King’s College First XV travelled by bus to Palmerston North to represent The Blues Franchise at the Top 4 National Tournament for only the second time since the Top 4 was created. 

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The last time we attended that tournament was in 2005 under Coaches Mark Kennelly and Jim Dickin and the team were beaten finalists. Our goal this year, was therefore to go one better than 2005 and complete what has already been a fantastic season. The bus ride down was a long one as we left just after 9am and after two stops along the way in Matamata and Taupo, we finally arrived at around 5.15pm at the Copthorne Hotel in Palmerston North, where we would be staying until Sunday.

This gave us a full day to recover from the long trip down and prepare for our semi-final match to be played after lunch on Friday against Nelson College who would be representing the South Island. The other semi-final was played out between Hastings BHS and Hamilton BHS. These two teams had met twice before this season with Hamilton BHS winning both games. Hastings BHS, however, were able to reverse the tables on Hamilton BHS this time and won a close encounter by the narrowest of margins - 11 points to 10. We had prepared very well for our match against Nelson College and despite cold, wet and windy conditions out at The New Zealand Rugby Institute at Massey University, the field was firm and well-prepared. Nelson had stated that they would be doing a pre-match Haka, so our boys responded with a powerful and emotional Haka that many people present, commented about in a very positive and proud way.

Playing with a strong wind at our backs, it was made very clear to the boys that we would have to start well, but the coaches needn’t have worried because we were scoring at more than a point a minute and after about 18 minutes the score was already 20 – 0. Tries were scored by centre Meihana Grindlay, hooker Waiora Morris and fullback Chicago Doyle, with first five-eighth Aidan Morgan adding one conversion and a penalty. Big tighthead prop Israel Otunuku added a fourth try and then Nelson College scored a try just before halftime for us to turn around and play into the wind in the second half leading by a convincing and deserved 25 – 5. The second half continued pretty much the same as the first, except Nelson were first to score a converted try not long after the break to close the gap to 13 points. However, in a man-of-the-match performance, Meihana Grindlay scored a further two tries and a further one was scored by open side flanker Tahu Watson, all of which were converted by Morgan and Grindlay added the icing on the cake with a penalty. With the game safely secured, the coaches were able to bring on all the reserves and Nelson concluded the scoring with a try at the end that left the scoreboard showing King’s College 49 and Nelson College 17. The coaches were delighted with the performance of the team as it had been clinical and disciplined in its approach, and despite a few bumps and bruises, there were no major injuries.

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It is a tough ask to expect young men to play two days later and the organisers of this prestigious tournament really should forget about tradition and think about the players’ welfare and wellbeing and start the semi-finals at least one day earlier to allow the players at least two days off in between the semi-finals and finals. Anyway, our two wonderful physiotherapists Jessica and Sarah went to work, getting our injured boys treated and with the help of Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott McLaren, they set about getting our boys recovered and ready for a long-awaited National final against Hastings BHS on Sunday afternoon. The goal was to create a little piece of history and become the first team from King’s College to be crowned National Champions. As holders of the Moascar Cup, we were obliged to put this up for contention, as we had also done against Nelson College on the Friday.

It had been a lovely, fine day on the Saturday and we awoke to another fine morning on the Sunday, however, as the day progressed, the clouds rolled in along with the wind and by midday it had started raining. As the TV cameras were only set up on the #1 field, there were the two other finals played on the field before our game – the co-ed schools final in the morning, followed by the girls final at around lunchtime. So by the time we kicked off at 2.10pm, the field was soft and cut-up from the previous two games, accompanied by the wind and rain. We knew this was going to be a tough encounter and in our most recent games we had become accustomed to starting well and turning around at halftime ahead on the scoreboard. In the final we had been outplayed and out-passioned and we turned around at halftime behind on the scoreboard 0 – 13. Through some sloppy and ill-disciplined play by our boys, they had scored a well-taken try that was converted and their kicked added a conversion and two penalty goals from our indiscretions.

Despite the score line sitting in their favour, we were still confident that we could turn the table after the break as we would have a strong wind at our backs in the second half. We created several try-scoring opportunities but our finishing lacked accuracy and Hastings BHS were able to hang onto the same score-line for much of the second half. Eventually we scored a good and well-constructed try to Aidan Morgan who then converted his own try to chop the deficit to only 6 points. The match then ebbed and flowed with both teams creating opportunities. Hastings finished one of these off with another converted try to put them ahead 20 – 6 with 10 minutes to go. King’s then started throwing the ball around and looking for opportunities to split their defence. From another strong run by Meihana Grindlay, he managed to drag four defenders over with him from about 20 metres out to score a try that was converted by Morgan, to give us a glimmer of hope to snatch a win in the final minutes of the match. With nothing to lose, the boys threw caution to the wind and gave it one last crack down the left-hand side. Winger Luron Iosefa – who had made several strong runs in the match, went down injured in a tackle and when the ball was kicked to Hastings, they took advantage of us being one man down and attacked down the wing where Luron was still lying on the ground, running the length of the field to score the final try that was converted to put the game out of contention for us. When the final whistle sounded, Hastings had won 27 - 14 and were deserved National Champions and also secured the Moascar Cup that is now locked away until next season and will be firstly contested by teams in the Super 8 and Hurricanes Region in 2020.

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This was a very disappointing way to end what had been a very successful and enjoyable season. After being crowned Auckland 1A and Blues Franchise Champions, it was very tough for everyone to ‘stumble at the final hurdle’ and get so close to finish so far. In a final there can only be one winner and unfortunately for us, in 2019, we will be remembered as the second-best secondary school rugby team in New Zealand, which is still a very creditable achievement! We also held the coveted Moascar Cup for only the third time in our History and defended it, (albeit for only two matches), but this was still a major achievement that the entire squad can be very proud of. We now look forward to a well-deserved break as it has been a long and strenuous season and I am sure that the boys are all looking forward to some time off before those that are returning in 2020, commence their pre-season training in Term 4. The New Zealand Secondary Schools, New Zealand Barbarians and New Zealand Maori U18 teams get announced on Wednesday and we are confident and hopeful of getting a number of this wonderful team selected in one of the three afore-mentioned National representative teams.

On behalf of all our players and team management in 2019, I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank The Headmaster, the Sponsors, the Staff, the Students, the Supporters and the Families of the players for supporting the team throughout our 2019 campaign and we hope to see you all back here again in 2020 as we take on the challenges once again.