Kieran Read recalls happy First XV days with his mates at Rosehill College.
When I think back to my time playing First XV rugby at high school, I’m filled with plenty of nostalgia.
I played for the Rosehill College First XV for three years from 2001-03. You might think that I was a real talent to be playing First XV in the fifth form (Year 11), however it was more a case of how many rugby players we could scrape together to form a full team.
Rosehill was considered more of an arts and performance school, really. Sport wasn’t a high priority, although we have had a number of outstanding individual athletes over the years. Rosehill College is a co-ed school in Papakura, the most southern suburb of Auckland. It caters to a real mix of people, from urban to a number of country kids out in Counties. As time moves on, there is less and less country and more urban as the Auckland sprawl continues to engulf the area around Rosehill.
In 2001, I knew I was good enough to play First XV for Rosehill. I had played in age group sides for Counties Manukau over the years and was used to playing against guys much older and bigger than me, not just in rugby but also cricket. This first year playing First XV was the start of three of the best years of my rugby-playing life. Rosehill played in the Counties Manukau competition, a competition made up of First XVs from Waiuku through to Manurewa and James Cook High School. Wesley College, which is located right in the middle of Counties Manukau, played its Second XV in our competition because its First XV was too good for the rest of us, and the Wesley firsts played in the local Colts competition. Our main rival, however, was Papakura High. It became the battle of the train tracks as Papakura was situated on the other side of the tracks to us. This first year we beat Papakura for the first time in a number of years and could hold on to the bragging rights over my time at Rosehill.
My first First XV captain had a big impact on my rugby career and showed real authenticity in his leadership. He also would take me along to all the First XV parties that were being held on the Saturday nights, which I quite enjoyed, being able to hang out with all the seventh formers. These parties became a big part of building those social bonds that you create as teenagers. A lot of the time they would be held in our garage and a few of the boys from the team played in a band so they would bring their kit and play all night. It did help that the captain was my older brother. Gareth was part of a group of guys who wanted to install a bit of pride back into the Rosehill First XV. Obviously, we had to do that through our performances but also in the way we carried ourselves around the school. We started to wear our No 1s to school on a Friday to get people interested in our games. This consisted of the school tie and a knitted vest. To show a commitment to the team, the guys were made to buy their own white shirt and black pants. We looked amazing even though the quality of the shirts and pants left a lot to bedesired. This tradition stayed with us throughout my time in the First XV.
We weren’t training like schools do now. We had two trainings, on a Tuesday and Thursday after school, for an hour or so. This was guys turning up because they loved what they were doing and, more importantly, because of the enjoyment of playing alongside your mates. This was the best part about First XV rugby for me, playing rugby with all my good mates and not really focusing on the results.
In my sixth form year, we fundraised to head over to the Gold Coast for a rugby carnival. A week away on the Gold Coast staying in cabins at a campground was some of the best fun you could have with your mates. We went alright in the tournament as well. We also had a good bunch of competitive players who wanted to win, me included. My first year we came fifth, just missing out on the semifinals. In my second year, however, things went well, and we made the final against Waiuku College. It is still probably one of my most crushing defeats. We had a big crowd travel out to the Colin Lawrie Fields in Pukekohe to support us and the game went down to the wire, with Waiuku winning by a point or two. My biggest memory of the game now is a chargedown by Waiuku that led to its match-winning try. In my last year I captained the side, which was a highlight of my time playing for the team. We lost a semifinal that year against Wesley, which was probably a fair result.
One of the teachers who helped coach/manage the First XV over the years was James Fraser. His impact on me as a player and a person was indelible. In my last year at school, James sat me down and asked if I wanted to give rugby a good crack that year. I said yes, and because we weren’t getting enough hard training out of our team trainings to really push me, he would turn up a couple of mornings a week and meet me on the field at school. There we would run laps and work on my skills, and he would allow me to tackle him over and over, just me and James, out on the field in the dawn light. I didn’t fully realise it at the time but that show of commitment and confidence in me allowed me to progress. I made the NZ Schools team that year, which shows the improvement I had made under his guidance.
Thinking about how much I feel First XV shaped me not only as a rugby player but a person, I do feel a bit sad about how professional the First XV game has become. Teams are training as much as the Super Rugby clubs now, games are highly structured and players are bigger (I didn’t gym until my seventh form year). This does create young people with high skills and a professional outlook, but if everything is being handed to them at this level, they may lose the real want and love for the game. Rugby is facing a challenge to hold on to young people in the game, and if we make our school rugby more elitist, I believe we may drive more people out of the game, through burnout or because some just want to play for fun and they can’t find that. Let’s bring in more weight-restricted First XVs. What about giving chances for the so-called smaller schools to compete against one another in rugby carnivals? Results shouldn’t be the be all and end all at this level. Yes, we love winning, but we shouldn’t put winning above enjoying the game and creating lifetime rugby people who want to be involved after they leave school, which is more important to me.
Subscribe here to get future Rugby News issues delivered to your door.