Co-Eds XV faces steep learning curve

Combine and destroy. Or something like that.

Actually, the Combined Co-Eds XV has modest expectations in its debut in the Otago premier schools tournament.

Co-coach Jack Wolfreys hinted it could be a steep learning curve for the newly-minted side.

But the team is playing a longer game. Ultimately the goal is to be competitive and to provide a legitimate rugby pathway for co-educational schools.

The single-sex schools have pulled well ahead to the point anyone who is serious about his rugby has to go to one of the bigger boys' schools.

The Combined Co-Eds team is an effort to help turn that around.

Kavanagh College and Taieri College have linked with Kaikorai Valley College in a joint effort. The team is also drawing on players from other co-educational schools.

It has been a mission to pull it all together in time. The jerseys are not expected to arrive until next week, for example.

But the side has had a decent, although tough, pre-season and will host South Otago High School at Kaikorai Valley in its debut match this afternoon.

How will they go? Wolfreys was cautiously optimistic.

"We've had three pre-season games and I think the positive thing is we've improved each game," he said.

"We're looking at starting strong, I guess, and we are pretty excited about the season.

"It has been hard getting a group of boys together from three different schools ... but hopefully it will make for a stronger team."

Combined Co-Eds lost all three pre-season games. It was defeated 42-10 by another new entrant this year, Wakatipu High School.

There was a heavy loss to Otago Boys' High School Second XV and a close loss to Verdon College.

Based on those results, the team will labour against the competition heavyweights.

"It might take a while to hit our stride but we will just focus on the development side of things and hopefully the boys will improve."

The combined side will look to tighthead Niko Tili to provide the muscle up front.

He is a dynamic ball carrier and has a good core skill set.

Halfback and captain Trey Russell will probably be the smallest player on the park each week. But he is an excellent communicator and has a snappy pass.

Centre David Makasini won the Otago Secondary School 200m and 400m titles, so he will be one of the fastest players in the grade.

He has also played age-group representative rugby, so he is one to watch.

The format this season will involve all 12 teams playing each other once. From there, the teams will divide into a top, middle and bottom four.

No-one wants to be in the bottom four but most of the teams are realistic about making the top four.

Otago Boys' First XV, John McGlashan College, King's High School and Southland Boys', which is returning after a five-year absence, shape as the likely top four.

Dunstan High School and Waitaki Boys' High School will have designs on a seat at the top table as well.

Southland Boys' has the disadvantage of having to play most of its games away from Invercargill.

John McGlashan and King's have a large core of players returning which will help them bridge the gap between them and defending champion Otago Boys'.

Otago Boys' will start as favourite but the top four teams should be more evenly matched than in past editions.

The Combined Co-Eds will "push for that middle four," Wolfreys said.

"The main thing for us is not to focus on the results too much at the start, but make sure we are more competitive and put a better product on the field for those co-ed schools.

"The last couple of years, co-ed schools have got a bad rap around Dunedin for not being strong in rugby. That is the purpose of this combined team - to show a pathway."

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