SBHS First XV off to take on world’s best school teams

Japan awaits for the champion Southland Boys’ High School First XV.

The Southlanders, riding high off their national top four victory last year, are off to play in the Sanix World Rugby Youth Tournament.

Recognised as the world’s only "world cup" for high school pupils, this year’s tournament marks 25 years since the competition started.

Since its inception, the tournament has played host to 20 countries and regions, and players such as New Zealand trio Owen Franks, Colin Slade and Matt Todd and South African JP Pietersen have played at the event before going on to represent their respective national teams.

At the 2019 World Cup in Japan, 26 players who had played in the Sanix tournament turned out for a variety of national teams, while at France 2023, the number increased to 35 players.

The tournament is played annually at the Global Arena sports complex in Munakata City, on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.

There are 16 teams in the boys’ competition with eight teams lining up in a girls’ sevens tournament.

Southland Boys’ left yesterday and will play their first game this weekend.

They are taking on two Japanese schools in their first two games and will also play Jesuit High School, from Sacramento, in the United States.

The competition then goes into playoffs. Pool games are 25 minutes each half with playoff games extending to half-hours.

Coach Jason Dermody said the Southland youngsters were excited about the trip, which would be both a sporting and cultural experience, but it was walking into the unknown against foreign teams.

"We do not know anything about them, which is a bit unusual for us. But we can just prepare as best we can and go out there and play," he said.

There were about 10 players back from last year. Though it was a shame that many of the players who won last year could not make the trip to Japan as they had left school, Dermody said that was just the way it went.

As soon as the school got invited to the tournament, an enthusiastic group of parents started fundraising.

There had been golf days and a big gala dinner, featuring All Black and old boy Ethan de Groot. More than $160,000 had been raised to pay for the trip, which will last just under three weeks.

About 50 players had started training and fundraising and this had been trimmed down to 26 for the trip. Three coaches, a manager and a physio would make the trip.

New Zealand has had some success in the tournament with Hamilton Boys’ High School having won it three times.

Southland Boys’ will play a game against Kumagayi High School after the tournament. Kumagayi is a sister city of Invercargill.

The side will be captained by midfield back Taine Withy, the third Withy brother to captain the team.

They will land back in Invercargill on a Sunday, May 12 and three days later will play Otago Boys’ High School in an interschool in Dunedin.

Dermody said it may be a tough ask and he could have moved the game to the following Saturday but decided to stay with the game on the Wednesday as it made the interschool more meaningful.