Westlake are once again bossing the North Harbor first XV competition.
Spare a thought for Westlake Boys High School, frustratingly trapped in No Man’s Land in schoolboy First XV rugby.
Westlake are once again bossing the North Harbor First XV competition, unbeaten and 10 points clear
ahead of facing third-placed Massey High School away, at 12 noon on Saturday.
But they are thwarted from ever testing themselves on a weekly basis against Auckland’s other top schoolboy teams because, through an accident of geography, they are situated on the wrong side of the Auckland harbor bridge
Westlake would love to be in the Auckland 1A competition, but that is something neither the North Harbor nor Auckland unions want.
From a North Harbor perspective it would mean giving up its best schoolboy team.
And from an Auckland perspective, inviting Westlake into the 1A competition would mean one less opportunity for one of their own schools to compete at top level.
So former rugby league great Hugh McGahan, director of rugby and rugby league at Westlake, walks a diplomatic tightrope in not wanting to sully the merit and reputation of North Harbour’s FUJIFILM Business Innovation 1st XV competition, while also not hiding a desire to one day see his lads playing against Auckland’s best on a weekly basis.
It highlights an age-old sporting conundrum administrators everywhere grapple with at one time or another: Is it better to structure competitions primarily on the basis of geography or ability?
“We respect the teams we play against, but would love more exposure to consistently testing competition,” McGahan said. “If you are to be a champion team, you need to be tested every week.
“Unfortunately our competition is not as tough, not as consistently at a high level, so it is a small disadvantage to us that we are not used to that level of competition when we do play top schools.”
Last Saturday Westlake beat Takapuna 79-0 – a result McGahan said was “not good for either team” – and they will again be warm favorites against third-placed Massey on Saturday.
Westlake, coached by Mark Manihera for six seasons, have won the North Harbor title seven times in the past decade. But if offered the chance, Westlake would happily surrender that dominance and even settle for contesting Auckland’s 1B competition if it meant they could work their way up from there.
They are in a curious situation where their pre-season program – where they play the likes of New Plymouth Boys’ High and Hamilton Boys’ High – is tougher than their regular season.
And their restricted geographic exposure is made even more incongruous by the fact that Manurewa High School – 35km to the south – was welcomed with open arms into North Harbour’s first XV league in 2019 when the Counties competition fell over.
Westlake has a strong academy development program with year 9-11 players, which is assisted by their U14, U15 and U85kg teams being able to compete in Auckland-wide competition.
Here Westlake headmaster David Ferguson, himself a former director of sport at the 2500-pupil school, adds further context.
“Rugby is the only sport at first team level where we can’t compete in Auckland-wide competition,” he said. “For cricket, basketball, football, hockey and water polo it is not a problem. And our U15 rugby players are top of their league at the moment, so it is not as if we are making up the numbers.”
The U15 city-wide exposure at least helps provide a supply line of talent and Westlake have pumped out top players such as Caleb Tangitau, with the All Black Sevens at the Commonwealth Games this week, and Jock McKenzie with the Blues. Of the class of 2022, highly regarded 95kg lock Tristyn Cook is perhaps their current top prospect.
Assuming Westlake win their knockout-stage matches they will face the best from Northland for the right to then undertake a massive step up in class and play Auckland’s 1A champion in the Blues Cup final.
The winner of this final will represent the Blues region in the National 1st XV Championships to be held at the Massey University Sport and Rugby Institute, Palmerston North from 9-12 September 2022.
The National First XV Championship is comprised of the winners of the four regions: Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes and South Island.
Big finish for St Peter’s
St Peter’s have surged eight points clear at the top of Auckland 1A first XV rugby after a 26-21 win over Sacred Heart, who dropped to third.
In a storming finish to the big match of last weekend’s round, Sacred Heart scored a converted try with 10 minutes remaining at The Cage, then drove over the line only to be held up.
While a lot of the second spell was played in St Peter’s half, they defended effectively, although Sacred Heart supporters might feel aggrieved a couple of late high tackles weren’t pulled up.
St Peter’s coach Dave Thomas advised he has been instructed by his school principal to no longer comment to the media about his team’s success.
Sacred Heart now have tough home games against St Kentigern and then Kings College – where the Fitzpatrick-Kirkpatrick Cup will also be at stake – to try and secure a top four berth.
Meanwhile defending champs Kelston have moved into second place following a 21-11 win over Mt Albert Grammar.
Another feature of last weekend was Liston College notching its first win of the season, 13-6 against Tangaroa College.
HBHS shine in Super 8
In Super 8 first XV rugby last weekend unbeaten Hamilton Boys High cruised into the grand final with a 59-0 win over Gisborne Boys’ High – in what was also a Moascar Cup defense – and now face their final round robin match away to second- placed Hastings Boys High.
Hamilton Boys’ will host the final on August 13 regardless of the result against Hastings. Fourth-placed Rotorua Boys’ High could still make the final if they beat seventh-placed New Plymouth away.
With final round robin matches being played on Saturday in Canterbury’s Miles Toyota Championship, the Mark Hammett-coached St Thomas of Canterbury are poised to top the standings if they can beat Shirley Boys High. On July 23 St Thomas beat Nelson College for the first time – 33-31 in a quality thriller – and it may well be that these two schools clash again in the grand final.
Auckland 1A draw (home team first, all 2.30pm unless stated): Kelston v Auckland Grammar 1pm, Sacred Heart v St Kentigern, Aorere v Liston, Dilworth v De La Salle, Mt Albert Grammar v St Peter’s, Tangaroa v King’s College.
Auckland 1A points: St Peter’s 41, Kelston 33, Sacred Heart 31, St Kentigern 29, De La Salle 29, Kings 27, Mt Albert 23, Dilworth 20, Auckland Grammar 15, Tangaroa 9, Liston 5, Aorere 0.
North Harbor first XV points: Westlake 52, Manurewa 42, Massey 39, Rosmini 28, Whangarei 27, Orewa 19, Rangitoto 7, Takapuna 7.
Super 8 points: Hamilton 30, Hastings 21, Napier (7 matches) 21, Rotorua 19, Palmerston North (7 matches) 13, Tauranga 11, New Plymouth 6, Gisborne 1.
Canterbury Miles Toyota Championship points: St Thomas 50, Nelson 49, Christchurch Boys 44, St Bede’s 43, Timaru 32, St Andrews 31, Shirley 29, Christ’s College 25, Selwyn Combined 16, Waimea Combined 10, Roncalli Aoraki 8.
Wellington Tranzit Coachlines Cup points: Silverstream 29, Wellington College 28, St Pats Wellington 26, St Bernard’s 22, Hutt International 19, Rongotai 18, Scots 18, Wairarapa 6, Mana 0.