St Kentigern College cleared to play in 1st XV rugby competition but will stand down 'new' players - Kogonuso

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Mar 24, 2019

St Kentigern College cleared to play in 1st XV rugby competition but will stand down 'new' players


St Kentigern College has agreed to restrictions around its participation in the Auckland 1A schools rugby competition.

An independent judicial panel looking into the St Kentigern College rugby player recruitment controversy has had a dollar each way in its findings – criticising the private Auckland school for "sustained" poaching but also upholding its complaint that a proposed boycott of its games was unauthorised.

The upshot of the decision is that the Auckland school has been cleared to take part in this year's 1st XV competition but will be required to stand-down "new-to-school" players from outside of Auckland for the first six games of the season. It subsequently agreed to stand down "the two most directly affected players" for any semifinal or final that might eventuate.

The panel, appointed by College Sport Auckland, announced it had upheld the complaint by the St Kentigern Trust Board about a proposed new Code of Conduct for the 2019 Auckland secondary schools 1st XV 1A rugby competition.

The code had been driven by 10 participating schools, and was aimed at preventing what they deemed excessive recruitment. It used the threat of defaulting games against St Kentigern, unless the school agreed to new rules restricting their tactical practices around bringing in new players.

The panel, comprising Wellington barrister Tim Castle, former Auckland college principal Gail Thomson and former All Black Ian Jones, found that the proposed new code was unauthorised and in breach of CSA Rules and bylaws.

It sought to require that all "new-to-school" Auckland secondary student rugby players who have transferred from an NZRU 1st XV-sanctioned competition stand down for the first six 1A competition games, plus any potential semifinal or final matches.

The target of the new code was St Kent's, who had intended to field up to three players recruited from leading 1st XVs outside of Auckland.
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The panel were concerned that the ultimatum by 10 out of 11 principals of the 1A schools would efectively punish the entire St Kent's1st XV, which was not in the best interests of the students.

It decided to uphold the St Kentigern Trust Board complaint and also deemed the school broke no current CSA rules.

However, the panel did criticised St Kent's for undertaking a "sustained" period of "annual" strengthening of its 1st XV rugby side. This included providing scholarships for players to move from competing schools.

The school has strenuously denied targeted recruiting.

But the panel deemed St Kent's had not "adequately recognised and responded" to a changed mood in recent years where concern about practices being adopted had been openly expressed by schools and the Auckland Secondary School Rugby Union.

Panel chair Tim Castle said: "The panel is satisfied that over quite a lengthy period St Kentigern have engaged in this strategy – with some success. Relationships between participating schools have suffered.

"We find that St Kentigern is in significant respect the author of its own misfortune in not adequately taking on board the changed mood amongst the participating schools community."

But the panel added that none of the participating schools were "necessarily immune" from similar allegations.

"Kāti rawa i konei, me mutu ēnei mahi," Castle said; "Enough is enough; this practice must stop."

The panel found that the schools had not fulfilled their requirements under CSA Rule 5.2 to resolve differences directly with each other, and that there were not "exceptional circumstances" which exempted them from this requirement.

To resolve the impasse, the panel recommended St Kentigern agree to not play their new-to-school players from outside of Auckland for the first six games of the 2019 1A tournament.

King's College and St Kentigern agreed to this recommendation, but the other 10 schools rejected this compromise solution, indicating they intended to default their games against St Kentigern.

After further discussions, the St Kentigern Trust Board decided that in the interests of all and the welfare of the 1A competition, they would agree to additionally stand down "the two most directly affected new-to-school players" for any semifinal and final games.

In February CSA announced it would review all rules and bylaws for its sports, with the aim of allowing all schools to consider changes to be implemented in 2020. "Allowing for proper procedures, designed to give everyone a chance to reflect and have their say....is infinitely more preferable than threats of default in the absence of agreement," the panel concluded.

A St Kent's spokesman said it was satisfied with the panel's findings.

"The panel confirmed Saint Kentigern has followed the rules of this competition. We also accept that over several years we should have recognised concerns about an advantage being gained through the enrolment of students and their selection for the 1st XV," said Dr John Kernohan, chairman of the Saint Kentigern Trust Board.

"The panel made an initial ruling that this issue should be resolved by having new-to-school players stood down for the first six games of the season, which we agreed to along with one other school.

"We have decided to also agree to a further call from the 10 other participating schools for the two most directly affected players to be also stood down for any semifinal and final games.

"We are conscious of the impact this will have on boys who came to the college in good faith. But on balance and in the interests of bringing this to a close, the trust board has agreed to this extra step in the interests of allowing the competition to get under way."

CSA confirmed it was consulting with all its member schools as part of its biannual byaw review and that the eligibility of transferring students was a key part of this process.

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