A win against the school that has produced the second highest number of All Blacks was among the highlights for dozens of rugby players from The Armidale School that returned home on Monday (9 July) from a cross-Tasman development tour.
The 46-man squad of under16s and Year 11 Opens players gained insight from their action on the field and in specialised training sessions with elite level coaches during the 11-day visit.
Having kicked off the tour with training sessions at the Queenstown Event Centre at the foot of the Remarkables mountain range, the first fixtures were held at Cromwell, north of Queenstown on 1 July, with the TAS 16’s defeating Cromwell College 38-19 and West Otago U18s taking the honours against the Opens, 44-31.
The fortunes were reversed in the second set of fixtures against Christchurch Boys’ High, played two days later in the late afternoon crisp Canterbury air in fading light. The Opens stepped up with a 33-20 win over the rugby nursery, which has produced 46 All Blacks. The 16s found it tougher, going down 12-40.
It was to be a similar outcome two days later in the final matches against Shirley Boys’ High, with the Opens showing some class on the paddock to finish with a 36-17 flourish while the 16s encountered a 12-57 loss to a physically much larger side.
“The Christchurch Boys game was definitely the best because we did well despite the conditions – it was very muddy and we couldn’t pass the ball much because it was so slippery so we had to play more straight on rugby which was very physical,” said Opens outside centre Joe Baker of Narrabri, who scored tries in each match and captained the final game.
Just as important was the growth in skills and teamwork throughout the tour.
“We all learnt so much. The New Zealanders are very well drilled and very physical over the ball especially in the rucks. Not only did we bond together well through the tour but gained so much from our training sessions with Canterbury coaches before the second and third games, that was a real opener especially about the little things that can make all the difference,” Baker said.
“It was also incredible to have breakfast with the current All Black captain Sam Whitelock and teammates Codie Taylor and Jack Goodhue and hear about their journey to be the best in the world, especially Jack Goodhue who has been injured so much. To then see them play two days later against the Crusaders in a Supers game against the Highlanders, was just awesome. The tour was an incredible experience and should set us up well for the rest of the season.”