After a week of skills training, rugby education and exposure to professional sport at camp, the Blues Development Under-18 players were ready to step on to the field and test out what they’d learned.
They were given the opportunity on Sunday, with two games against Chiefs Under-18 players at Onewa Domain.
Each team was named after the two mountains that surround the Blues’ High Performance Centre, Maungakiekie and Maungawhau, and included 55 of the 59 players who attended the camp. Also included was under-17 player Robert Rush from Kerikeri High School, who attended the under-17 Development Day on the Friday prior.
Blues U18 Maungakiekie (14) v Chiefs U18 Clarke (10)
Tries: Scott Gregory, John Cooper
Conversion: Ciarahn Matoe (2)
A total of 19 high schools were represented in the first game, which kicked off at 12.30pm at Onewa Domain. Scott Gregory opened the scoring for the Blues with a power fend on his Chiefs opposite and a try, converted by Ciarahn Matoe. John Cooper was next, scoring just before halftime after a scorching run by Lemeki Namoa, who beat four defenders.
The second half was a focus on defence for the Blues. The Chiefs dominated territory, using the advantage of a strong wind. The under-18 players stuck to the patterns put in place by Defence Coach Sean Polwart and held the Chiefs back from the line, until a speculative kick and try closed the gap to 14-10.
The Blues players defended strongly for the final six minutes to secure a hard fought victory. Christian Lio Willie led well from the front and Jack McHugh was busy throughout the game, while Namoa ran himself to a standstill.
Blues U18 Maungawhau (31) v Chiefs U18 Messam (30)
Tries: AJ Lam (2), George Witana, Ajay Mua, Kafu Misiuata
Conversion: Harry Plummer, George Witana (2)
Team Maungawhau continued the Blues’ success at Onewa Domain on Sunday, but the second half in particular was hard fought. The opening half featured strong defence by the forwards, with Harry Plummer controlling field position and demonstrating a piercing attacking game when he broke the line and beat five defenders. Sione Havili and Ajay Mua then connected with strong runs and offloads to put AJ Lam across the line for the first try, converted by Plummer.
Unfortunately Plummer had to be brought off the field with a serious shoulder injury. Mua once again showed his strength to score off a strong Blues scrum and George Witana came off the bench to kick a sideline conversion.
Chiefs’ ill-discipline resulted in another try for AJ Lam, this one coming off impressive running from Lalomilo Lalomilo who beat two defenders. Tries from George Witana and Ajay Mua allowed the Blues to lead 26-6 at halftime.
The Chiefs came back firing in the second half, using the conditions to score three tries and close the gap to one point. The Blues showed good composure and control to stay in front, using a well-worked try from Kafu Misiuata after another break from Tanielu Tele’a and support from Hoskins Sotutu to retain the lead.
A further Chiefs try rounded the scoring out at 31-30, making the game a tough and entertaining win for the Blues. Caleb Clarke and Cameron Suafoa were also strong throughout the game.
Blues High Performance manager Tony Hanks called the games “an excellent advertisement for the best schoolboy players from the two northern Super Rugby clubs.”
The camp, which ran from Sunday to Thursday, saw three players graduate from the Blues’ Apprentice Day to the full Under 18 squad. The players were invited to watch the Blues’ Captain’s Run at Eden Park on Thursday, before the team’s final game of the 2016 Investec Super Rugby season against the Waratahs on Friday.
Camp organisers placed a strong emphasis on Blues values and Under-18 players were recognised each day for their demonstration of the values, as voted by their peers. The winners were Caleb Clarke (Unity), Brady Rush (Integrity), Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa (resilience), Kafu Misiuata (Desire), Niven Longopoa (Relentless).
Caleb Clarke was voted camp MVP, while Harry Plummer (backs) and Waimana Reidlinger-Kapa (forwards) picking up the players player awards.