The most successful rugby team in Auckland over the last decade, St Kentigern College 1st XV, has reportedly been ‘boycotted’ by up to 10 rival schools over recruitment practices. What this will achieve, however, for the schools and players, remains to be seen.
There is no denying the landscape of schoolboy rugby has changed dramatically over the last fifteen years as the age of professionalism has crept in at all levels. Many schools in New Zealand run semi-professional rugby programmes, and those with the resources have been willing to put those resources to work in the recruitment space to bring in talent.
The move by a handful of schools to boycott St Kentigern College, in a way, affirms that they themselves hold a belief that talent alone wins rugby games. A belief that there is some kind of unfair advantage they have that cannot be overcome. This has time and time again, proven to be untrue.
Competition breeds progress and if you test yourself against the best you will become better. Boycotting a rival team robs their own players of testing their ability and improving.
Have the principals asked the students in their very own 1st XV teams whether they want to avoid playing St Kentigern College? It is hard to fathom that any team of elite, competitive, schoolboy players would turn away from the challenge of playing such a talented team.
The St Kentigern 1st XV team of 2018 was full of supremely talented schoolboys, many of whom will go on to play professional rugby. The team lost in the 1A semi-final to St Peters College, a side that went on to win the National Championship in a fairytale run of sorts.
The result proved again that stacked schoolboy teams ultimately means nothing and they can be overcome. For St Peters, the experience and hard-fought win against quality opposition ultimately fuelled them onto more success, showing that a tough road prepares champions. If the best players in the country are heading to the 1A competition, it is for the betterment of every player in the competition.
The decision to boycott a school shows more about their mentality than it does about the school being boycotted and perhaps, is a failure to teach the boys one of the most important lessons of all – life is sometimes unfair.
In life, when the odds are against you, you have to go out and fight anyway. What does this decision teach them?
St Kentigern will only win if they work hard for it, which is what they have done in the past. Rugby is a character game and always will be, talent alone will not get the results.
The decision to strong-arm a recruitment ban also ignores the fact they are only one party to a scholarship.
Is anyone forcing these young men to leave and join St Kentigern College? They choose to go. If principals want talented athletes to stay, have they looked at everything they can do within their own backyard first?
There is a saying in business that people don’t leave organisations, people leave people.
It’s not the case in every scenario, but if more and more kids are prepared to leave their teammates and classmates they have grown up with after three or four years, what does that say about the strength of the school environment? If you’ve had three years or more to get a kid to buy into the mission, the school legacy, the culture, the pride of wearing the jersey, and he still wants to leave, you haven’t done enough. Any 1A school should try recruit a current 1st XV player from a public school like Christchurch Boys High. Just one. It won’t likely happen.
There are plenty of kids who turn down scholarships because they are happy where they are. There are others who take up the offer because they want to take on a new challenge or need a new environment. In some cases, it’s just the right move for the kid.
If they are prepared to leave their hometown and move to a new city in search of something, it’s clear they aren’t getting it where they are and now they won’t get to play the game they moved there for.
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