UC Championship stepping stone to success for Havili brothers

Nelson College first XV captain William Havili is a player who successfully made his mark on this year’s UC Championship competition. The second highest points scorer, William was an influential figure in the Nelson College backline in 2016, proving his worth both with ball in hand and from the tee this season by notching up an impressive 134 points across 15 weeks of the Crusaders region secondary schools’ competition.  

A veteran of the school side, having represented the first XV since he was a year 11 student, William captained Nelson College through to the semi-final of the UC Championship Cup on Saturday 13th August, ending a successful season in which the team secured 10 wins and two draws in their 14 round-robin matches, before being defeated in the semi-final by Christchurch Boys’ High School. 

BNZ Crusaders’ fans will recognise the name; William’s older brother David is a member of the current Crusaders squad, having progressed from the Wider Training Group in 2015. David made his Super Rugby debut against the Lions last year and has notched up 25 games so far, having played an integral role in the midfield throughout much of the 2016 campaign. He too played in the Crusaders schools’ competition during his final year at Nelson College, with both brothers moving from Motueka High School to board at Fell House and represent the first XV. 

The siblings take a keen interest in one another’s rugby, and David joked that although he does occasionally offer William advice on his game, he’s not sure his younger brother heeds that advice: “I try to stay out of his way and let him do his thing. He seems to be doing really well. Every now and again I will give him a couple of tips, but I’m not sure whether he listens or not”, he said. “Regardless, I think the most important advice I could give any player is to keep enjoying your rugby. The more you enjoy it the better you are going to play.” 

In that respect, both brothers agree that the experience of playing in the UC Championship merits the dedication required to balance study commitments with the demands of the secondary schools’ competition, and believe that having to catch up on study due to travel for away games is a worthwhile sacrifice for the ability to represent the school alongside fellow players who are also great mates. “One of the most challenging things about this competition is that we do travel a lot for away games, as far as Timaru and to Christchurch a number of times during a season”, William said. “It is something you get used to, but it can be difficult to balance your commitments at school with rugby commitments each weekend. In saying that, the ability to travel and play rugby with your mates is also one of the most rewarding things about this competition.” 

This season has been especially memorable for William and his Nelson side; the team made history for their school in defeating Timaru Boys’ High School to lift the Moascar Cup for the first time during round nine of the competition. As well as leading the side to that 18-3 victory in Timaru back in June, William scored 13 of the side’s points in that historic match, and went on to play an important role in each of the side’s successful Cup defences throughout the remaining rounds of competition – a feat that has no doubt instilled immense pride in Nelson College first XV rugby.  

Now in his final year at school, William is looking to the future and while he plans to continue enjoying his rugby, he is also looking to pursue opportunities off the playing field as well: “It’d be nice to have the option of playing professional rugby one day, but I am looking at completing a building apprenticeship once I finish school. David was a builder before he was selected for Tasman so in that respect I will get to follow in his footsteps and whatever happens from there, happens.”

Mitch's Picks

Mitchell Hunt is a former Nelson College representative who spent three years in this competition and is now a member of the 2016 BNZ Crusaders squad. We asked Mitch to give us his picks for the finals of the UC Championship:

 
UC Championship Cup:
 Christchurch Boys' High School to beat Shirley Boys' High School
 
 
UC Championship Plate:
Timaru Boys' High School to beat Marlborough Boys' College
 
 
 UC Championship Bowl:
St Andrew's College to beat St Bede's College

UC Championship: The Competition So Far

After 12 rounds of competition, the UC Championship is proving a close-fought contest in 2016. The secondary schools competition, consisting of 15 teams from within the Crusaders region, features a number of players keen to make their mark in the first XV, and a number of sides are making claim to this year’s title. Here is a round-up of the competition so far:

The intensity of this year’s schools’ competition was evident from round one, when Marlborough Boys’ College toppled Christchurch Boys’ High School 22-18 in Christchurch and Timaru Boys’ High School beat Lincoln High 92-7, running in an impressive 15 tries in the process. Christ’s College lead the standings after 11 weeks of competition on 49 points, just two points clear of Christchurch Boys’ High School, who defeated them in Round 7 to break their unbeaten record in the competition this season. Christ’s College have yet to drop a match since that top-of-the-table clash with Boys’ High and both sides remain key title contenders with only a few regular season games in hand. Last year’s champions St Bede’s College currently occupy the mid-table, while beaten 2015 finalists Shirley Boys’ High School have a tough run if they are to secure a spot in the play-offs, hosting Christ’s College and Waimea Combined before wrapping up the round robin against Christchurch Boys’ High School on Saturday 6th August.

Sam Gilbert continues to anchor the St Andrew’s College backline; the talented first five-eighth is the competition’s leading points scorer (114 points), with four tries to his name and a further 94 points off the tee so far this season. Josh Reece (Marlborough Boys’ College – 110 points), William Havili (Nelson College – 96 points), Jackson Taylor (Shirley Boys’ High School – 87 points) and Luke Glen (St Bede’s College – 72 points) round out the top five highest points scorers so far, all having made notable contributions with the boot. Burnside High School player Mikaele Ravalawa heads the try tally, with 13 tries scored so far, including a hat-trick against Roncalli College in Round 9. Christ’s College back Isaiah Punivai is one try behind having dotted down 12 times, and Timaru Boys’ High School’s Isireli Kawa, has crossed the chalk 11 times already this season.

Also on the line this year is the Moascar Cup, one of New Zealand rugby’s most coveted schools’ trophies, currently within the Crusaders region. In the season to date, the Cup has changed hands twice within the UC Championship; Timaru Boys’ High School won the Cup for the first time in their history in round eight of competition, defeating St Andrew’s College. That same week, Nelson College travelled to Alpine Energy Stadium and also made history for their school, returning home with the Cup after an impressive 18-3 victory. St Andrew’s College had a second chance at claiming back the silverware when they travelled north to provide Nelson College with their first challenge on 25th June, but so far the Nelson side have shown steely determination in fighting off the challenges of St Andrew’s College, Shirley Boys’ High School and St Thomas of Canterbury. The remaining rounds provide another two challenge opportunities (to Roncalli College and Lincoln High School) as those sides make the trip to Nelson in rounds 14 and 15 respectively.

Given the current standings, a number of teams still have plenty to play for in the remaining three rounds of competition, as they look to secure play-off spots on Saturday 13th August for the UC Championship (1st - 4th place), Plate (5th - 8th place) and Bowl (9th – 12th place) semi-finals. The finals for each section are set to take place on Saturday 20th August.

Tom Christie: Former Shirley Boys' High captain now a member of Crusaders Academy

Tom Christie is a former Shirley Boys’ High School first XV representative, who debuted for the side as a Year 11 student and went on to play in the Crusaders region secondary schools competition - now the UC Championship - for three seasons. A new member of the Crusaders Academy in 2016, Christie has adopted the academy ethos of developing his skillset on and off the park, by pursuing both his rugby ambitions in Christchurch as well as embarking on a four year engineering degree through the University of Canterbury.

In 2015, during his final year at school, Christie captained Shirley Boys’ through to the final of the UC Championship, a feat they achieved for just the second time in the school’s history. He then went on to be named in the New Zealand Secondary Schools side which travelled to Australia later that year. The promising loose-forward has since joined the Crusaders Academy, and says playing in the schools’ competition has helped him take the next step towards his rugby goals: “The UC Championship teaches you a lot about handling pressure and meeting goals within a competitive team environment. At the Crusaders Academy a lot of that is then tailored to the individual, so you are effectively taking your experiences at school level and building on those to grow your skillset and learn to operate within a professional rugby environment.”

As well as new challenges on the field, Christie has been named as the 2016 recipient of the Infor University Rugby Scholarship, which acknowledges a promising member of the Crusaders Academy and assists that player in pursuing tertiary study at the University of Canterbury. He is hoping to earn a place in a limited entry course at UC next year, which will allow him to specialise in civil engineering. Likewise, having alternated between the six, seven and eight positions during his school rugby days, Christie is now working towards a role as a specialist open side flanker.

Although a huge amount of discipline is required to balance the demands of rugby and academic, Tom believes that the skills he continues to develop with the academy are transferable and benefit his approach to study: “The Crusaders Academy focusses on sculpting individuals into quality people as well as quality rugby players. The skills you develop such as creating a strong work ethic and having a great attitude are applicable elsewhere, so I am able to step away from rugby and apply the same learnings within a study environment. In that respect it’s very easy to make the connection between the two and despite the hard work involved, my study and training commitments actually complement one another.”

Christie typically sets aside time from 8am-5pm Monday to Friday to ensure he is on campus at UC and focussing on his engineering study, around a rugby training schedule which includes early starts two days per week, further training sessions four nights per week after university, and a full game day on Saturday. With academy, club and Canterbury Under 19 rugby duties all to be factored in, Tom acknowledges his schedule is full, but is determined to make the most of his opportunities: “It is busy, but I enjoy what I have set up and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Mitch Hunt: From Nelson College first XV to the BNZ Crusaders squad

 

Mitchell Hunt spent his formative rugby years representing the Nelson College first XV in the Crusaders region secondary schools competition, now known as the UC Championship. The versatile first five-eighth and fullback has gone on to represent Auckland at provincial level and the New Zealand Under 20 side. Now a member of the 2016 BNZ Crusaders squad, Hunt provides insight to other young players on how his time in the schools’ competition has influenced his progression through to professional rugby.

After earning selection for the Nelson College first XV as a Year 11 student, Hunt went on to feature in more than 50 matches across three seasons between 2011-13. During his tenure, the school made two finals and one semi-final appearance in the competition. Coupled with his education, it was a role that required high levels of commitment and discipline from the outset, but an experience the young Crusader now reflects on as aiding his development through the professional rugby ranks: “The management and organisation that is required when you play for the school first XV does help prepare you for that step up to professional rugby. It’s something you don’t realise at the time but the ability to balance school work, travel almost every second week and still play rugby at the highest level, are key skills you bring with you into this environment.”

Hunt set himself specific rugby goals throughout his time at Nelson College, the first being to make first XV selection by the time he was in fifth form. Upon achieving that in 2011, his focus turned to developing as a leader and he was made captain in his final year of school in 2013.  A member of the Crusaders schools’ camp during his time in the side, Hunt says he always aspired to play professional rugby and is excited to now be involved with a team that features a number of players he knows from his early rugby days: “It was great to be able to learn from players such as Mitch Drummond and David Havili who were also in the Nelson College team while I was at school. Players like Richie Mo’unga, Jack Goodhue and Leon Fukofuka were also making their mark for other schools and in representative rugby, so it is testament to their work ethic that they are now in the BNZ Crusaders and it is awesome to now be playing alongside them.” The UC Championship continues to provide an important platform for young players to move on to higher honours, and has highlighted a wealth of talent within the Crusaders region since its inception.  

In terms of advice for current contenders of the UC Championship, hard work is important but enjoyment is paramount, according to Hunt: “Some of my best rugby memories are from my time playing for Nelson College. The enjoyment factor is crucial so my advice would be to work hard but to really appreciate the time you have playing rugby for your school with your best mates. When you look back, you realise why you started to play the game in the first place.”