New Zealand Secondary Schools 2017: preview

The 2017 New Zealand Secondary Schools squad travels to Sydney tomorrow to take on Fiji Schools, Australian Schools Barbarians and Australia Schools in fixtures over the next two weeks. The team will again be coached by Hurricanes assistant coach Jason Holland as they look for their fifth consecutive win over Australia at this level.

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The squad is dominated by players from National Top 4 finalists Hastings BHS and Hamilton BHS. Hastings – unbeaten in schools rugby in 2017 – provide six players to the full NZSS squad: prop Josiah Tavita- Metcalfe, flanker Jeriah Mua, number 8 Devan Flanders, fly-half Lincoln McClutchie, wing Kini Naholo and fullback Danny Toala. In addition, Dennon Robinson, Kianu Kereru-Symes and Folau Fokatava from the Hawke’s Bay school’s title-winning team are unavailable due to injury. Hamilton BHS centre Quinn Tupaea captains the side and will likely start in the 12 shirt; he is selected alongside schoolmates Charles Alaimalo and Tautau Kapea.

In 2016, Holland selected a big and physical side who were well equipped to play a ‘test match’ style of rugby, marrying good set-piece work with a focus on strong tactical kicking and winning collisions. The 2017 squad is in a similar mould, and will be built around the strength of the second row and the midfield.

Despite not possessing the same headline quality in the front row as the 2016 side – prop Tim Farrell and hooker Flynn Thomas have already made their NPC debuts for Hawke’s Bay and Southland respectively – St Paul’s Collegiate team-mates Sam Cooper and George Dyer could make for an effective combination in the 2 and 3 shirts. Tavita-Metcalfe will also be contending for a starting role on the tighthead side, while Shilo Klein of St Andrew’s College and Otago BHS’s Abraham Pole are the other hookers selected. The absence of Kereru-Symes (comfortable at both hooker and prop) leaves a likely competition for loosehead between Tamaiti Williams (St Kentigern College) and Fatongia Paea (Sacred Heart College), who has experience on both sides of the scrum.

Locks Naitoa Ah Kuoi (Wellington College) and Tupou Vaai (Wesley College) both represented NZ Barbarians Schools as Year 12 students in 2016, and in that side’s wide-wide pattern were asked to play the role of midfield distributor:

This is a role in which Vaai has continued to develop over 2017, as he took on the responsibility of being one of Wesley’s primary playmakers:

Vaai skip pass.gif

Ah Kuoi – who has already trained with the Hurricanes Super Rugby squad – is effective in this role too, and with an extra year of physical development he has improved his power in contact and ability to use the offload as an attacking weapon:

Ah Kuoi tackle.gif

Ah Kuoi carry + offload

Ah Kuoi and Vaai will be backed up by Timaru BHS second row/blindside Cullen Grace, and supported by a likely starting back row of Alaimalo, Mua and Flanders. The Hastings number 8 is another superlative athlete who moves well in the open field – he represented the NZ Schools Condor Sevens team in 2016 – and displays excellent defensive technique:

Flanders tackle + TO.gif

Flanders tracking + tackle.gif

St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, openside Josh Southall was a stand-out for the Hurricanes U18 side in July, and is one of five Year 12 students selected a year young. Grace will also cover the back row along with Gisborne BHS number 8 Quade Tapsell.

The backline will be directed by Hastings’ Lincoln McClutchie at 10, but the identity of his halfback partner is in question following Fakatava’s injury in the Top 4 semi-final: Humphrey Sheild (Napier BHS) and Taufa Funaki (Sacred Heart College) are the two 9s selected. The second fly-half selected is St Kentigern’s Rivez Reihana, a Year 12 student who is part of the Chiefs system.

A potential starting midfield pairing of Tupaea and St Kentigern College’s Etene Nanai could be one of the major strengths of Holland’s selection. Tupaea returns after playing for the Barbarians side in 2016, and is an extremely physical inside centre:

Tupaea carry + leg drive.gif

Nanai has been excelling in Auckland 1A rugby for a number of years, but this is his first NZSS selection due to previous involvements with the NRL’s New Zealand Warriors; despite a contract with the franchise currently in place, his selection for this squad indicates that the Chiefs and NZR have likely won the battle for his services. His apparent commitment to union is some consolation for the loss of Rotorua BHS midfielder Hayze Perham to league; it was announced this week that the midfielder and 2016 NZ Barbarians Schools representative had signed with the Warriors for 2018 on a full NRL contract.

Nanai’s footwork and speed initially won him recognition at fullback, but he has spent 2017 in the 13 shirt for St Kent’s:

Tupaea’s Hamilton team-mate Kapea is the other midfielder selected in the squad, although Danny Toala and Isaiah Punivai can also cover the centres. Toala is the most likely starter in the 15 shirt, and could be partnered in the back three by returning NZSS starter Leicester Faingaanuku and Kini Naholo, younger brother of All Black Waisake.

NZ Schools’ first fixture is on Thursday 28th September vs. Fiji Schools; this is followed by matches on Monday 2nd (Australian Schools Barbarians) and Saturday 7th October (Australian Schools).

New Zealand Barbarians Schools

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The Barbarians side plays a reduced schedule in alternate years, remaining in New Zealand to face Tonga Schools and a NZ Maori U18 side rather than travelling to Australia to play in the same tournament as NZ Schools. As noted above they played a very pleasing brand of rugby in 2016 under Otago BHS coach Ryan Martin, and the objective will likely be the same under Crusaders assistant Brad Mooar, who has been appointed as the head coach for 2017.

The 2016 Barbarians side proved to be a springboard for a number of players selected in the 2017 NZSS side, and highly-rated scrum-half Louie Chapman (Christchurch BHS) is one of a number of Year 12s who will be looking to take the same step in 2018:

Chapman LH pass.gif

Chapman RH pass.gif

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