During the recent Easter break 19 young men and 2 staff members from Somerset College ventured ‘across the ditch’ to take on the might of New Zealand in several games of Rugby Union. This was the very first tour conducted to New Zealand and the very first under age Rugby tour in the College’s history. Despite Cyclone Debbie’s best attempt to postpone the tour 17 of the 19 boys made it to the airport without issue, however the Hall twins, Jacob and Harry were hemmed in by flood waters and unable to make it to the airport in time. Mr Zernike cheekily suggested to parent Katie Mills, whose son Josh was also on tour that her husband Andrew could pick the boys up in his helicopter! Low and behold the suggestion was acted upon and the Hall twins arrived an hour later via helicopter from Casuarina! So 19 boys loaded onto the plane bound for Auckland. With the time difference we arrived just before midnight and quickly made our way to the hotel nearby to get some shut eye before taking on our first opponents, Auckland Grammar the following morning.
The 7am wake up call was not well received especially by Jake Sherrington, Ryan Vardy and Will Barry who chose not to take their wake up call and ended up sleeping in. Needless to say Mr Walsh’s reaction was not great! The squad eventually made their way to Auckland Grammar for their first tour match. We were given the very first opportunity to play on their newly installed IRB approved artificial turf which was an absolute privilege. The boys started well defending their line with pride and despite Mr Walsh’s recommendation to play 25 minute halves the referee was not notified by Grammars coach and the half went for 35 minutes. The boys had almost played their usual APS complement of Rugby in one half! The score was a respectable 15-0 to Grammar. Somerset had their fair share of ball but Grammar’s defence was superb and they very rarely missed a first up tackle which made it hard for the team to get any continuity and go forward. Grammar ran in a few more tries in the second half before an opportunistic try to Tour Co Captain, Declan Thew presented itself. Grammar was mounting an attack close to the Somerset line when the ball ricocheted off one of their players into Declan’s grasp and he sprinted the 80 metres to score under the posts. The conversion was made and the final score 38-7 to Grammar. The tour was underway with a loss but a pleasing performance by our boys considering the size and skill of Grammar and our 5 hours sleep the night before. The after match function was a treat for our boys as we got to see Grammar’s list of sportsman. The almost 150 year old school has produced the most All Blacks of any school in New Zealand with 52, with famous names like Grant Fox, Doug Howlett and Wilson Whineray adorning their walls. Jake Sherrington made up for his over sleeping by being awarded Man of the Match for Somerset.
That afternoon we checked into our Hotel and made our way to the Auckland Blues verse Western Force Super Rugby match at Eden Park. An early kick off and daylight saving in New Zealand meant we were bathed in sunshine for the match-which is somewhat a rarity in New Zealand. The match was good but Declan Thew’s purchase from the merchandise store got more attention! After the game the crowd was allowed onto the field and the boys enjoyed a bit of scrag on the Eden Park turf.
On the Sunday we awoke to some drizzly weather as Cyclone Debbie made its way over from Australia. We spent most of the morning exploring the viaduct area and then the afternoon was spent watching the Warriors verse Titans Rugby League match in our rooms at the hotel. That night we ordered pizzas and stayed in. Monday we checked out of our hotel and made our way to Tauranga. The 3 hour drive was interspersed with a stop at a small town called Ngatea (pronounced Nah Tee Ah). Mr Walsh took great delight in hearing the boys all trying to pronounce the township. Anyway the boys who went to the bakery for lunch were treated to some great pies and pastries! Once we arrived in Tauranga we spent some time across the road from the school in the Timezone attached to the Ten Pin Bowling venue before venturing over to Tauranga Boys College to meet our first billeting hosts of the tour. The cyclone hadn’t quite made it to Tauranga by that stage and it felt very much like home with sunshine and 27 degrees as the billeting process took place. Little did we know the next day would be quite different.
The Tuesday was wet and cool with the temperature halving to 13 degrees. The morning we spent at the base of Mount Maunganui in the nice hot pools there. This was followed by some food at some local cafes around The Mount. One thing you quickly learn when taking young men on tours is that eating is always of the highest priority and you must factor this in when planning your itinerary! That afternoon we had a room based challenge at the Ten Pin Bowling Lanes before heading over to prepare for our match against Tauranga Boys. The match was played in cold, wet and blustery conditions and for the first 15 minutes Tauranga had all the ball and despite the wet grounds spread the ball wide with confidence. The Somerset boys scrambled on defence well and managed to stifle several opportunities until a turn over that was spread to Centre, Will Barry who finished a great try and the team found themselves ahead 7-0 despite the fact Tauranga had all the possession. The game was a competitive affair, before late in the game, the first 15 minutes of defence finally took the toll on our boys and Tauranga finished strongly with a number of excellent tries. The final score of 40-7 probably did not reflect just how competitive the game really was.
That night was spent with our billets before meeting the coaches at school on the Wednesday morning. Due to the weather our organised activity with Blokarts Tauranga was cancelled and Mr Walsh made the decision to make our way back to Auckland and found an awesome indoor go karting track as a reasonable substitute. We spent the next 2 hours demonstrating that the Australian Government should raise the legal age of obtaining a drivers licence to at least 18! However, much fun, laughter and banter was had. Declan Thew showed he was the best student kart racer whilst Mr Zernike and Mr Walsh battled it out in a teacher fuelled session.
After racing we made our way to our final hosts of the tour, Saint Kentigern College. This school is well known for producing quality rugby teams and the fact that it is a private co-educational school it was the school we had the most in common with. Their Under 14 coach made us immediately feel welcomed as we were asked to enter into a huddle with their boys following their training session and prior to the billeting process. This was a nice touch and immediately broke down the barriers for both parties before we headed off with our host families. The next day we came to school early and then made our way over to Piha Beach on the west coast. There we enjoyed some lunch and threw the ball around on the black sand beach before heading back to Saint Kentigern College for the afternoon match.
We could tell that this was going to be the toughest match of our tour and this was evident right from kick off as Saint Kent’s regathered their own kick off and scored within 10 seconds of the match! Their 13 year olds were huge by comparison and fortunately they offered us up 3 of their biggest boys to play for us-which was handy! The Somerset boys were incredibly brave and defended admirably but the sheer size and skill of the Saint Kentigern boys was too much to handle. In the second half the possession evened up and we managed to run in 4 excellent tries to Jake Sherrington, Jacob Hall, Declan Thew and one to our recruit, Lapete. In the end our score of 22 was pleasing demonstrating that we had the ability to score some superb tries against some quality opposition. Much to the relief of Mr Zernike, Mr Walsh and Mr Hall we had managed to make it through 3 games against some of the toughest New Zealand Rugby schools without a single major injury! A feat in itself! Even though we hadn’t tasted victory in any of the matches the team developed considerably along the way and their bravery and courage was unquestionable!
The next morning we said farewell to our fantastic hosts and headed north to Snow Planet, an indoor snowfield facility on the northern shores of greater Auckland. For 4 hours we skied and snowboarded our hearts out with many first timers taking to the sport like ducks to water. We were briefly interrupted in the middle of our session with a quick bite to eat at the onsite lodge before returning to the snow for some tubing and more skiing and snowboarding.
That night we spent our final night in Auckland as a group down by the viaduct in a hotel. The boys were treated to some relaxation time following their efforts over the previous week and the impending flight home the next day. Upon our return to the Gold Coast the next day we were greeted by our families who I think were relieved to see us all in one piece!
Overall, although we did not win a game, the tour was a great success as we developed an awesome team culture and new appreciation for the game of Rugby Union. On top of that, we also made some friendships and memories through the billeting of Tauranga Boys College and Saint Kentigern College that will be cherished for years to come.
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