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'It was a classic game of New Zealand versus South Africa rugby': How Hamilton Boys topped the world

By Adam Julian
Hamilton swept aside the South African side in a close encounter

Hamilton Boys’ High School enhanced their already formidable rugby reputation when they won the World Schools Rugby Festival in Thailand in December.

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In the final of the ten team tourney, broadcast exclusively by RugbyPass, their First XV defeated Grey College from Bloemfontein, South Africa 22-10.

Grey has produced World Champions like Bismarck du Plessis, Naka Drotské, Ruben Kruger and François Steyn.

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Nigel Hotham has coached the Hamilton Boys’ First XV for two decades and has won five National Top Four titles. He identified the Thailand triumph as “a special highlight.”

“It was a classic game of New Zealand versus South Africa rugby; flair and running ambition against big running forwards and lineout drives,” Hotham said.

“Grey won the toss and took a strong wind. They dominated possession early but were kept scoreless in the first half by a tremendous defensive effort.

“One of the few opportunities we had was just before halftime with winger Alex Pitts-Brown scoring a try in the corner after multiple phases.

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“Turning with the breeze gave us real confidence and the second half was one of the most complete we produced this season. Fullback Payton Spencer was outstanding, scoring a try and kicking a 50-metre penalty.

“Aki Tuivailala and Hiraka Waetai-Haenga were strong in midfield and No 8 Oli Mathis really stood up to their pack.

“As you would expect Grey never gave up and scored a couple of tries from lineout drives in the final five minutes but really it was the perfect finish to a great year.”

Hamilton won 18 out of 19 games in 2022 winning the National Top Four, Moascar Cup and National Condor Sevens titles. Hamilton have won 48 consecutive matches at the National Condor Sevens but weren’t unchallenged in fifteens.

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The Super 8 title which they’ve won 14 times since 2006 is notably absent from the trophy cabinet. In the final they were upset by Rotorua Boys’ High School, conceding a try with the final play of the game. Captain Aki Tuivailala believes that setback was a turning point.

“We worked hard the whole year to win Super 8 and to fall short to an amazing Rotorua team was devastating. We were lucky we got a second chance, learned from some of our mistakes, and were determined one result wasn’t going to bring us down,” Tuivailala said

“In the National final against Napier Boys’ we were down until the last play, but we kept our cool and always believed we could win. The try scored by Caelys Putoko to win the final was incredible.”

Of Tongan extraction Tuivailala has been an impressive captain for Hamilton Boys’ this season.

“For me it’s about the relationships I can make off the field. If I can connect with the boys as mates and push the respectful side then I get more trust and better responses on the field,” he said.

The empathic approach of Tuivailala reaped dividends in the World Schools Final.

“Grey was amazing throughout the whole tournament and really pushed us to perfect our game. To play a team like that for the first time was a real honour that brought the best out of us,” he said.

“Thailand was amazing with a few differences in lifestyle. I really learned a lot and saw some things I didn’t really expect.”

The World Schools Rugby Festival is not the first ‘World Schools’ title that Hamilton has won. In 2010, 2011 and 2014 they won the Sanix World Youth Invitational Tournament in Fukuoka, Japan.

What possibilities exist for Grey College to tour New Zealand? Hamilton has an established calendar of demanding fixtures between May and September so it would be difficult to host any foreign side in that window. However, the Term 2 holidays typically fall in July where most local rugby takes a brief break.

With boarding facilities and Auckland only a two-hour drive away, Grey could easily organise a large-scale tour between March and April, in July, or after the National Top Four in September.

With a strong base of local sponsors, experience touring and a respected international reputation, Hamilton Boys’ is well positioned to tour on a regular basis. As recently as 2019 they won all four matches on a tour of Japan.

The World Schools Rugby Festival was high quality sporting competition and educational experience for its participants.

What about a Super 8 Schools’ World Cup for men and women to run alongside the marquee senior events in future? Imagine New Zealand Schools versus South Africa Schools before a World Cup final in Paris. That would be fun.

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