Welcome to the fly-half factory
September 21, 2011
All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter is one of 42 former Christchurch Boys' High School graduates to have played for New Zealand © Getty Images
Mother Nature may well have robbed Christchurch of a starring role in this year's World Cup but the quake-ravaged city will still have a significant say in the destiny of the sport's biggest prize thanks largely to one of New Zealand's leading rugby nurseries.
Christchurch Boys' High School has a long tradition for producing top class rugby talent with 42 former pupils having gone onto play for the All Blacks. They can also lay claim to having supplied the most players to the current New Zealand squad while head coach Graham Henry and assistant Steve Hansen are also old boys.
The school, founded 131 years ago and state-funded, may not be the most prolific when it comes to producing All Blacks, with that particular all-time honour currently residing with Auckland Grammar, but it can claim to set the standard in one particular position - fly-half.
Former pupils have spearheaded the All Blacks for much of the last sixteen years with Andrew Mehrtens and more recently Daniel Carter filling the No.10 shirt. The current Kiwi playmaker was tipped for great things during his time at the school with the 2000 Yearbook stating, "Dan was something of a modern day gentleman, being quiet, unassuming. But what made him so valuable were his extraordinary skills. He could kick, pick a gap, find a man with a clever pass and make bone-crunching tackles. He was always cool under pressure; he was one of the stars of the team."
And the 'first five-eighths factory' has more recently produced Colin Slade, the most recent graduate to make the All Blacks grade, and rising star Tyler Bleyendaal who has been tipped for great things having starred for the all-conquering U20s side.
But the production line stretches back much further than the professional era. The first former pupil to graduate to All Blacks honours was Walter Drake who claimed his one and only cap against New South Wales in 1901. His trailblazing path to the international stage would later be followed by his great, great grandson and another ex-pupil James Paterson who is currently gracing the World Cup stage in the colours of the United States.
Among those early graduates to make their mark was Bob Deans, a member of the 1905 'Originals', and who perhaps is best remembered for a try that wasn't awarded. A key figure in the family that has helped shape the history of rugby in the region and an ancestor of current Australia coach and fellow Cantabrian Robbie Deans, he 'scored' against Wales during the afore mentioned tour only to see his effort ruled out and as a result his side suffered the only defeat of their 35-match tour.
David Leggat's essay Fields of Glory, included in a book to celebrate the school's 125th anniversary, highlights another major achievement. The 1911 1st XV included no less that five players - Sid Carleton, Geoff Alley, David Dickson, Curly Page and Bill Dalley who went on to become All Blacks. A feat repeated the following year with Frank Clarke replacing Dickson in that elite group.
The school shared in yet more glory in 1956 as a result of the historic series victory over South Africa that was largely inspired by two former students. The Springboks arrived having not lost a series against anyone since 1896 but an All Blacks side led first by Pat Vincent and then Bob Duff would shake up the world order.
A school with such a rich rugby history must be doing something right and current headmaster Trevor McIntyre is happy to share the recipe for success. "We have a passion for rugby that is based around a partnership between the pupils, the parents, the staff and the local union," he told ESPNscrum .
"Rugby used to be run by staff but is has long since grown beyond that. We now have 20 odd teams out on the paddock on a Saturday and because we aspire to have a manager and two coaches with every team there is no way we could do that with just the 80--90 staff we have here in total.
"So we formed a club and currently run that club within the school. It has a formal structure and is chaired by the parents and the club captain is our master in charge of rugby - a teacher. Some teachers still coach but typically now only around a quarter of those who coach are teachers - the rest are parents and other outsiders."
Christchurch Boys' High School was not the first to adopt such an approach and unsurprisingly was not the last. "There are more and more schools doing it," added McIntyre, who has been in his post for eight years. "If I was to credit anyone then it would be Otago Boys' where I first saw it in action about 12 years ago. It is always something that I have strongly supported as it is a sustainable practice. Typically in schools before that, their fortunes ebbed and flowed depending on the staff they had in the school at a certain time because staff are not paid to run rugby out of school hours. If you had two or three really passionate staff then sport was strong, but if those people left the school then sport would suffer. But now, although our results go up and down a wee bit, we have the consistency in participation and delivery."
Rugby is not compulsory and only one hour a week is officially set aside for sports during the week, but the school holds its own in a field that is dominated by similar establishments. "The government funded boys schools in New Zealand are very strong," explains McIntyre. "If you look around New Zealand as to where the rugby strength is you will see it is in the government boys' schools. Auckland Grammar, Napier, Palmerston North, Wellington College, New Plymouth Boys', Rotorua Boys' and Hamilton Boys' - the 1st XV rugby trophies have more often than been in the hands of the government-funded boys' schools."
The school's 1st XV have won the national title three times, sharing it with Wesley College in 2004 before claiming back-to-back wins in the next two years. But successful or not - the school remains a draw in more ways than one.
"We get thousands of people attending our 1st XV games," said McIntyre. "The fixture with [local rivals] Christ's College, which is our longest standing game, regularly attracts five or six thousand people. We probably get more in for that game at Rugby Park than they do for some of the ITM Cup games they stage there."
But the popularity of age-grade rugby transcends the playing arena. "The Rugby Channel has started to broadcast a lot of school 1st XV matches," added McIntyre, "and they have said that their subscriptions jumped 50% at the start of the season when they announced they would be doing that."
If any of the current pupils are struggling for inspiration they need only take a stroll through what could easily pass as New Zealand's sporting 'Hall of Fame'. Numerous cabinets display hard-earned spoils while one special corridor is laden with memorabilia that records the sporting success of former pupils. Signed shirts from the likes of Carter and Mehrtens sit alongside such things as a bat that once belonged to cricket legend Sir Richard Hadlee.
But don't be fooled - this is a rugby school if ever there was one with the All Blacks honours board taking pride of place. The ornate wooden plaque with gold lettering lists all those to have pulled on the world famous shirt and with a fair amount of foresight and confidence; plenty of room has been left to add many more names.
Christchurch Boys' High School's All Blacks: (in chronological order)
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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