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'We were down 22-21 and inside our 22': How Hamilton Boys' HS claimed Sanix World title

By Adam Julian
Hamilton Boys High School celebrate the win in the final of the National 1st XV Championships on September 11, 2022 in Palmerston North, New Zealand. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

Understated, claim, committed and tough, Oli Mathis ticks all the boxes of a desirable loose forward in New Zealand.

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The Hamilton Boys’ High School First XV captain, raised on a dairy farm in Waihi, is a winner too.

Last week he led Hamilton to a fourth Sanix World Youth Invitational title in Japan. In the final Hamilton conquered Higashi Fukuoka High School 28-22 to capture honours for the first time since 2015.

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New Zealand’s representative is the National Top Four Champion. In 2022 Hamilton won that title defeating Napier Boys’ High School 17-15 in the final, scoring a try with the last play. Right-wing Caelys Putoko pounced upon a Napier spillage to break ‘Sky Blue’ hearts.

The Sanix final climaxed in an eerily similar fashion. Mathis captures the drama.

“We were down 22-21 and inside our 22 when we got the ball, I don’t remember how. Our first-five Wyndrum Patuawa dummied and ran 50 meters.

“He was going to be tackled but put a grubber through and our winger Dupre Marshall got the perfect bounce.

“To be honest I was stuffed. I got up from the ruck and just stood there in a daze. The celebration was pretty good.

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“The last minute was the hardest. We talked about kicking it but decided to play ‘keep-ball.’

“We were in our 22 and they were hitting hard. We won a scrum and as soon as we got the ball back, we were able to kick it out.

“It’s special to captain this team. All the boys want to be there so there’s not much telling off. I try to reinforce simple stuff and focus on the next job by asking how we can improve. There’s no point in dwelling on mistakes.

Hamilton took the first half wind and were 14-0 ahead in as many minutes. In the second spell, it was a battle to get out of their territory.

In the National Top Four final last year Hamilton was mistake-ridden slumping to a 15-5 deficit. The Napier pack was abrasive and accurate as Mathis, nursing a high ankle sprain, watched on from the bench.

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“I was guttered to miss the semi-final against John McGlashan. I hate watching the boys train, so I had to lie a little about how I was really feeling before the final. The physio told me I couldn’t do any more damage, so I thought stuff it I’ll play.

“I struggled through the last 20. I wanted to do something. We backed out fitness.”

With five games in eight days at Sanix, Hamilton’s fitness would be stretched to the limit. Mathis was impressed by the Japanese.

“We knew they’d be good, but they shocked us with their physicality. They’re outstanding athletes, who move the ball fast. They’d compete in New Zealand.”

Napier Boys’ were invited to attend Sanix and faced Hamilton in the semi-final. Hamilton won 52-19.

“It wasn’t the best performance; we had a lot of work-on’s. The score didn’t reflect how tough the game was, but it felt good to run away with it at the end.”

Hamilton has 19 players back from its 2022 squad. Before Sanix they beat Blues champions and National Top Four representatives Westlake Boys’ High School 29-26 as well as Mount Albert Grammar School.

In December they won the inaugural World Schools Festival held in Thailand.

The annual Super 8 starts in a fortnight with Hamilton hosting New Plymouth Boys’ High School. The Super 8 is the only trophy not in the Hamilton cabinet. In the final last year, they were beaten by Rotorua Boys’ High School, their only setback in 19 games.

The memory of Keaton Reti is a big motivator for the 2023 season. The Under 15 Player of the Year tragically passed in February after a farming accident.

“Keats was a top bloke, a cheeky bugger, a cool dude all around. We miss him but we don’t forget him.”

Hamilton BHS Sanix results

Pool: Saga Technical High School, 24-14 (50 minutes)

Pool: Hotuku Gakuen High School, 52-0 (50 minutes)

Pool: Jianguo High School, Chinese Taipei, 76-3 (50 minutes)

Semi: Napier Boys’ High School, 52-19 (60 minutes)

Final: Higashi Fukuoka High School, 28-24 (70 minutes)

 

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