The All Blacks have consistently been the best international side in the world for the best part of a hundred years, the way the game is immersed in the culture and the way they coach at school level have long been cited as reasons for this, yesterday at Millfield we saw why.
In Palmerston North Boyâ€™s High Schoolâ€™s 40-22 victory over Millfield their physicality, game management, and rugby know-how was exceptional. Man for man were they better players than Millfield? Probably not, but it was as if they were a couple of years further down the line of development than the home side.
That is not a criticism of Millfield by any means, it is simply praise of the structure of rugby in New Zealand, players are simply developed better earlier than anywhere else â€“ their record at the JWC demonstrates that. Throw into the mix a few gargantuan Maoriâ€™s and Pacific Islanders and you have a rather tasty recipe.
Millfield actually played rather well, in the face of aggressiveness and physicality in excess of anything that they will have ever come across, or will again, on a school pitch they stood up and went toe to toe with Palmerston North, not an inch of ground was ceded without an almighty scrap.
Sometimes the scrap became a literal one, Palmerston played at times like gnarled veterans, leaving a shoulder in, burying your face in the mud, tactics designed to see if Millfield would stand up to them or meekly shy away.
To their eternal credit Millfield never took a backwards step, their second row partnership of Chester Allen and Josh Ellis, backed up by Freddie Davison at hooker and Sam Roberts at openside, were immense in responding to the physicality.
Roberts picked up a yellow card for his part in a big scrap towards the end of the first half, that the Palmerston man joining him in the bin was their biggest forward told you everything you needed to know about Robertsâ€™ performance, he gave everything, regardless of his own physical wellbeing.
Millfield had started the game brilliantly, forcing Palmerston deep into their own 22 as they drove forward with a series of rolling mauls. Eventually it was inevitable that a Palmerston player would see yellow for pulling the maul down, and so it proved as their giant prop had to make the long walk.
Millfield could not capitalise though and it was Palmerston who came through the sin bin period ahead, 10-0 thanks to a penalty and a converted try after they drove over following a stolen lineout.
It was at this stage a margin that was undeserved, Millfield had ben on top but were punished by Palmerston as they continued to try to run penalties rather than take points, it is an admirable way of playing, Millfieldâ€™s attitude is not just to win but to win properly, to win by scoring tries. After all, if you cannot play enjoyable rugby at school, when can you? However against the line speed and physicality that they were facing it was tough to find the necessary space.
Millfield did soon take a penalty through Tom Whiteley though to reduce the gap but Palmerston soon hit back with a try from their brutal inside centre, a man who would play number eight for most sides.
They might have had another shortly before half time were it not for a superb covering tackle from Whiteley.
It seemed to have a galvanising effect, Palmerston laid siege on the Millfield line for the rest of the half but could only yield a solitary penalty as Millfield stepped up their defence a further notch. Callum Sheedy was leading by example in defence, hurling himself into tackles to prevent any further scores.
It left the score 20-3 to Palmerston at half time, with the New Zealand outfit clearly in the ascendancy. A good start to the second half was required by the home side but almost immediately Palmerston nailed another penalty.
That galvanised Millfield though and, buoyed by the ever increasing volume of the home support, they began to throw caution to the wind in the pursuit of points. It worked too as they forced their way into the away 22 and executed a superb and subtle lineout move to send blindside John Radford over practically unopposed. Hope emerged.
That hope took a dent as Palmerston hit back with a try of their own but the momentum of this stage of the match stayed with the home side beginning to seriously pressure the away defence.
Alec Coombs, who had come on for the injured Charles Hyde in the centre, was having a huge impact, his powerful and pacey running was a constant threat and his efforts really deserved some points, as did one magnificent run from Charlie Hall.
A try soon did come though, strong scrummaging from Sam Nixon and Jack Owlett in particular yielded a penalty from which John Radford went steaming over to claim his second try of the game. Whiteley converted to narrow the gap to 15-28 and suddenly hoped looked to have turned to belief.
To turn that belief into points though Millfield knew that they had to throw the ball around and score tries, try as they might though they just could not breach the final few metres of the Palmerston defence.
A couple of errors, inevitable given the need for tries, allowed Palmerston to make up some good ground and they scored to quick tries in succession to really kill the game off.
It was Millfield who were to have the final say though, Adam â€˜interceptionâ€™ Hastings following a Palmerston pass beautifully to steal it away and race to the line. Whiteley slotted a wobbly drop kicked conversion from out wide to leave the final score at 22-40.
Palmerston deserved their victory but in truth it was a triumph for the strength of schools rugby in New Zealand above all else, such was the physicality and maturity of their play.
It was superb occasion to be at though, the Haka before the game always lends itself to a special atmosphere, whilst to see the two teams combine at the end for a photo was a sign of the unique togetherness that exists in Rugby Union.
Final Score: Millfield 22-40 Palmerston North Boyâ€™s High School
15. Tom Whiteley 14. Charlie Hall 13. Charles Hyde 12. Adam Hastings 11. Benjamin Hopkins 10. Callum Sheedy (c) 9. Matthew Donaldson; 1. Samuel Nixon 2. Freddie Davison 3. Jack Owlett 4. Chester Allen 5. Josh Ellis 6. John Radford 7. Sam Roberts 8. Bailey Ransom.
Replacements: 16. Alec Coombs 17. Henry Oakes 18. Oliver Clarke 19. Oliver James 20. Aston Lester 21. Joshua Bayliss 22. Billy Reeves.