Wellington Football Showcase their Best at Nationals

Story courtesy of College Sport Media

Wellington schools have historically struggled to achieve podium places at the National Secondary Schools’ First XI boys football tournament.

Rongotai College is the solitary winner from the capital in 1989. St Patrick’s College, Silverstream lost the final to Sacred Heart College in 2011. Wellington College were runners up in 1983 and 1995.

Hutt International Boys’ School (HIBS) and Scots College upset the apple cart in 2022 by finishing second and third respectively in Napier last week.

HIBS eliminated Scots 1-0 in the semi-final, their fourth victory against Scots this season.

Unfortunately HIBS went down to an exceptional Tauranga Boys’ College outfit 1-0 in the final. Tauranga scored early and couldn’t be pegged back. Tauranga won all seven matches at the tournament outscoring opponents 28-2. They won 20 of 22 matches throughout the season and scored 120 goals and only conceded 12. Tauranga is only the sixth non-Auckland school to win Nationals since the inception of the competition in 1978.

Lucas Jelly is captain of HIBS and was proud of the valour HIBS showed in the decider.

“They were definitely bigger and stronger than us, but I felt we played really well and had a few chances to get a goal back,” Jelly said

“Credit to Lucas Siegel and our defence for keeping them to one goal. It gave us the chance to fight back at the end. The result was a hard one to accept but if you’d said to us at the start of the week we’d be in a National final I think the boys would have been pretty chuffed.

“We were absolutely devastated to lose the Wellington final in front of the whole school, and with so many chances to win the game. In hindsight though it might have been the best thing to have happened to us. It brought us closer together for Nationals.”

Under the new management team of Jeremy Field and Craig Stevenson, HIBS have flourished. A specific system of resolute defence adept at exposing teams on the break has worked a treat.

HIBS topped the round-robin of the Wellington competition and started Nationals by overwhelming St John’s College, Hamilton and Cashmere High School to book their place in the Round of 16.

With Jelly pulling the strings in the middle of the park, HIBS destroyed St Peter’s College, Auckland 4-0 and then faced St Kentigern College in the quarter finals.

“That was definitely the game of the tournament for us. We were 2-0 down with 15 minutes to go. I got a corner and it ricocheted off a few of the lads and Harrison Kowalczyk kneed into goal. Danny Makowem then made a bust and Nkhata Hollywell smashed it into the right hand corner of the net,” Jelly reflected.

“We were nervous about it going to penalties, but it was different from the Wellington final. There were less people watching and we were really focused. Lucas Siegel pulled off a couple of stunning saves and we got the job done.”

HIBS have had Scots measure all season and Nationals were no different, Scots struggling to break down the sturdy HIBS backline. Scots forward Rory Best conceded HIBS had “a mental edge” and it was “frustrating.”

The entire week for Scots was anything but frustrating. An unusually settled roster was able to demonstrate their true quality.

Best scored twice with each foot in the 5-0 group win over Timaru Boys’ High School while Auckland Grammar School were stunned early by Scots.

“We were up 3-0 in that game. I heard some of their parents on the sideline really disappointed about that which was a great boost to our confidence,” Best said.

“We were inconsistent in the Wellington league but we really wanted to show how good we are. We wanted to surprise people and having not played any of the teams before allowed us to play with a bit more freedom than usual.”

In the Round of 16 against New Plymouth Boys’ High School, Scots was stunned by a “fantastic” first-half goal. Patience and polish would secure a 2-1 win in the second-half.

“All the boys dug deep and played well. Our captain Hunter Wilson was so solid at the back. It was great to have goalie Sam Plimmer back. He broke his cheekbone in the Trevor Rigby Cup after going up for a punch from a corner. Alden Suri is our star player,” Best said.

“St Paul’s were a really good side. They had some quality players who were hard to mark. I didn’t get to take a penalty in the playoff for third, but I’m really proud of how the boys finished.

“It’s pretty cool that Wellington school did so well. I don’t know if I wanted HIBS to win it though. The rivalry is pretty keen.”

Best has another season of First XI football to look forward to in 2023. Jelly departs HIBS as their most successful First XI captain. HIBS has never finished higher than second at the Nationals. Jelly also plays First XI cricket.