Friday morning saw the first sunshine creep through the clouds for the touring party. Excitement raced through the camp as they got ready for what should be a much warmer and dryer game then experienced two days ago. Students boarded the bus for a slow trip up the hills of Dunedin towards Kavanagh College. As we arrived students were taken into the schools auditorium for a traditional Maori welcome, there were discussions of reciprocating with a snappy number from Pirates of Penzance, but this was thought better of. The tourists were treated to a number of songs including a beautiful rendition of ‘hallelujah’ in their native tongue.
After the formalities, both schools headed even higher up the hill, to what would have to be one of the most picturesque school sporting grounds in the Southern Hemisphere. With all teams playing on the one ground, it was the first time that we were all able to watch each game on tour. Excitement reigned as the first of the Rugby games took to the field…but we will pick that up a little later.
The footballers were handed a lesson in wet weather football in the first game against St Thomas. Captain Ottavio was keen to put this behind them to get into the winners circle against our next physical opponent. After a strong, clinical warm up, the boys were out ready for action. The match started with some great exchanges of passing from the usual suspects of Makovec, Jakes, Ottavio and Mostofi. Aidan Principe and Kieran Casey were very solid at the back, along with young Tom Baird. There were chances aplenty in the first half, with Mostofi coming ever so close with a powerful strike which was rebounded into the path of Sam Sullivan who was extremely unlucky not to score with the follow up. If not for the incredible goal keeping, Newington would have been 1-0 up after 10 minutes.
A chance presented itself not long after as Sullivan found himself in space again after a Mostofi cross with Sam finding the woodwork with a reflex strike. The post was hit soon after as the black and white piled on the pressure with no reward. Unfortunately the Kavanagh team were quick to break free, and with speed across the park, made Newington pay with two clinical strikes leading into half time for a 2-0 score line. After the break the hits kept coming for black and white clan. A Jakes’ header hit the woodwork once more, before some luck of a different kind, as a Mostofi cross/shot found the back of the net for the first goal on tour, 1-2. More chances were created throughout the second half, and when Jakes found the back of the net to make it 2-3, a tight and tense finish was on its way. Unfortunately the Newington boys could not capitalise and instead were overrun by another very clinical opposition, with the final score 2-5 to the side from Dunedin. A superb game by all involved and some great positives to take into the final game on tour.
The Rugby White’s ran out with determination and all were looking for improvement on the game in Christchurch. Within one minute, and a strong tight head scrum win, it was apparent that this was a different team to the one that played 48 hours earlier. The boys were able to string a number of phases together and supported each other at the breakdown to secure possession. Some tackles still were missed and strong running opposition capitalised on these and ran in some tries. The team found the halftime break scoreless but had found a renewed energy and enthusiasm. The second half saw some awesome phases of play, highlighted by the quick tempo set by Rhys Miller at halfback. Zac Zoud looked dangerous in attack as did Mikey Hassen in providing some inspiring go forward. David Doust, Will Gray and Max Gallant toiled hard in close, and Jarrah Ronan guided the team around confidently. The more positive play and team work soon lead to two tries being scored by Rhys Miller and Garth Bickford. These tries were a just reward for the way that the boys improved and the attitude that they took into the game. While ultimately the score went against them they held a great account of themselves and their school.
The Rugby Black team actually commenced the day’s play, but we decided to keep the report for last. After a brief warmup, the team were determined to continue the positive performance from the previous match. Tom Hirst provided a stirring pre game captains call to arms and the boys ran out for their encounter. An early try to Kavanagh against the run of play did not deter the Newington team, who soon hit back with a try to the tours leading try scorer Toby Philips. A few minutes later, the prolific Phillips crossed once more and it was the Newington team with all the momentum. However, immediately before halftime, the Kiwi side displayed their class and determination with a well made try to go in at 12 a piece. This was not going to be easy!
During the break, Mr Wilson reminded the boys that the impressive first half had provided the team with a special opportunity. The outcome sort after was to be the first Newington Prep school rugby team to win a game in New Zealand. This outrageously ambitious goal was only considered due to the obvious level of intent shown by our boys, which was matched by their execution.
On the return to the field, the forwards continued to create a superb platform for the backs to play with expanse. The commitment in every run, clean out and tackle was unwavering. This helped secure a 3rd try to Angus Ole, giving the Australian visitors a 17-12 lead. Inspired by the forward pack, our backs did not put a foot wrong. The quicker team members looked to apply pressure by moving the ball at every opportunity. Will Rumi, Flynn Gannon and Ridley De Lange challenged their opponents like never before with intelligent and skilful play. But it was the work of Thomas Oates that has his teammates as well as spectators in awe of his strength. Although smaller than most, Tom’s heart and resilience in defence was something to behold. Easily saving 3 tries with amazing tackles in cover defence, some on the opposite side of the field, kept Newington in front by 5. Tom continuously brought down bigger, faster and stronger opponents with copybook tackles in what would result in a man of the match performance.
With Newington gripping on till the bitter end, one final thrust from the forwards enabled the team to cross for a 4th try to Tom Hirst, sealing the landmark victory. With celebrations and cheers fitting of such a proud performance, the boys thanked and congratulated their Kavanagh rivals and gathered for a school song. Staff found it hard to control their emotions after witnessing such a gutsy and well deserved victory. The boys are clearly realising their potential and ability on tour, especially when they apply their efforts united.
After the matches, our host school invited us back to their college for a post match presentation. Here the boys enjoyed food and drinks with their counterparts and some polite conversation. And here, Toby Phillips’ efforts were embellished as well as only another try scoring front row forward can. Can’t wait for the last match!