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Young coach aiming for ‘very, very top’

14 May 2021
New King’s High School first XV coach Niall Gregg gives his players some instructions during a training session at the school yesterday. PHOTO GREGOR RICHARDSON

Niall Gregg has been bumped up to head coach this season.

Not bad for a 24-year-old from Ireland who arrived in New Zealand six years ago with just a dream.

But his dream is becoming a reality.

Gregg grew up in Ulster and played rugby all through school. He had a series of injury and concussion setbacks but still had big dreams.

He arrived in New Zealand as a freshly minted 18-year-old "straight out of high school".

"I came out to the big smoke of Oamaru with the intentions to both play and coach," he said.

"I was very lucky to get taken in by Waitaki Boys’ and was set up in their hostel and worked in the hostel."

"I think I’ve lost most of my accent now but I’m Irish and proud."

Yeah, nah. Still got that accent, mate. The interview sounded like an episode of Derry Girls.

Gregg signed up to play for Excelsior but quit after one pre-season game.

"I just knew I still wasn’t right so I decided I was just going to have a couple of years off just to get myself right."

He filled the time coaching and fell in love with it.

"It quickly became my passion and since then I’ve never looked back at playing, to be honest."

He coached at Waitaki Boys’ High School for four years and has been coaching at King’s High School for the past two seasons.

Gregg assisted with the King’s First XV last year, absorbing as much information as he could.

"I’ve learned a lot from a lot of great coaches in my time and seen how they’ve operated. When I heard Ryan [Bambry] and Will [Henry] were stepping down I felt the time was right for me to challenge myself.

"Some people will say I’m maybe too young. But I’m of the opinion if you are good enough, you are old enough."

Gregg will find himself up against some wily opponents. Former All Black midfielder and Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger is coaching John McGlashan College.

He helped engineer an upset against Southland Boys’ High School on Wednesday.

"I know how hard it will be but this is my passion and, to be honest with you, I want to go to the very, very top. That’s where I’m hoping to end up one day."

Gregg said King’s felt it had the side to win last year’s competition. It managed to beat Otago Boys’ earlier in the season. That was the school’s first win against the powerhouse rugby school since 2007.

"But we were definitely the second-best in that final. But we’re a proud school ... and we’ve all agreed we want to go one better."

Otago Boys’ won the final 33-19 last year and looms large again.

The format is the same as last season. The 12 teams are divided into a top six (Premiership) and bottom six (Championship).

At the end of the first round-robin, the bottom two teams from the Premiership will be relegated and top two teams from the Championship promoted.

Following the second round-robin, the teams will split into a top four, middle four and bottom four for their respective semifinals.

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