The All Black, his best mate and the unbeatable St Mary's sevens team video

MONIQUE FORD / Stuff.co.nz

Ardie Savea has been helping coach the St Mary's College sevens team. They won a national competition and are now off to the world champs.

They never played rugby at St Mary's College until 2015.

Well, who would? There isn't a blade of grass in sight, for starters.

If St Mary's had a sporting pedigree till then, it was of all the netball kind. But that all changed when a 10 a-side rugby team was formed, under the coaching of Tuga Mativa. 

All Blacks, New Zealand Sevens and Hurricanes star Ardie Savea has coached St Mary's College for the last two years.
MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ.

All Blacks, New Zealand Sevens and Hurricanes star Ardie Savea has coached St Mary's College for the last two years.

In concert with close friend Ardie Savea - of All Blacks, New Zealand Sevens and Hurricanes' fame - Mativa quickly built a side to beat allcomers. Second in New Zealand for 15 a-side rugby, St Mary's are the national sevens champions and will now play at April's Sanix World Rugby Youth Tournament in Japan.

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"I reckon we can win," captain Cheyne Copeland said.

St Mary's College will represent New Zealand at the World Youth Sevens Cup in Japan.
MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ.

St Mary's College will represent New Zealand at the World Youth Sevens Cup in Japan.

And who can blame her? Wellington 15 a-side champions in 2016, they then beat Feilding High School to be crowned Hurricanes' Schools champions, before losing to Southland Girls' High School in the national final.

There have been no such failures in sevens, culminating in their victory over Hamilton Girls' High School in December's national final.

At the recent Sir Gordon Tietjens Invitation Sevens they scored 200 points for and 12 against, in their six-game run to the title. St Mary's are so good that, in November, they won the American Ambassador's Sevens tournament against Wellington's best female club players.

The St Mary's College seven teams go through some training drills. Photo: MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ.
MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ.

The St Mary's College seven teams go through some training drills. Photo: MONIQUE FORD/FAIRFAX NZ.

To put that in perspective, five members of the Oriental-Rongotai team St Mary's beat in the final are regulars for the Wellington Pride in the national provincial women's competition.

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"We probably knew from our first tournament we played that we had something special," Savea said.

He and Mativa go back to their days together Rongotai College. St Mary's now train there regularly, given asphalt's all there is to play on at their own school.

Savea thought he'd go down and help out occasionally. Instead, he's there every Monday and Wednesday that his schedule allows.

"I got hooked onto how good the girls are and how awesome it is to be a part of everything," said Savea.

"When I first came all the girls weren't talking, they were a bit shy...none of them knew how to pass a rugby ball. They were all girls from basketball and netball who'd never played rugby before, but they were just so skilled and so talented and we just tried to teach them."

The Mativa-Savea dynamic is an interesting one. Mativa's in charge but it's inevitable that his famous pal's words sometimes carry more weight.

"He's the type that's [only interested in] what's best for the girls," Savea said.

"We're best mates, so we can say anything to each other; even if it's good or bad. But generally it's good and it's not about us; it's about the girls and trying to succeed."

There was some understandable shyness when Savea first showed up, but not now.

"He's a great bloke. He's easy to approach and really informative," said Copeland.

Savea and Mativa also have a bit to work with. Befitting St Mary's reputation for netball, Renee Savaiinaea and Ainsleyanna Puleiata combine rugby with being members of the New Zealand under-21 squad who'll contest the World Youth Netball Cup later this year.

Others, such as Copeland, are Wellington representatives in a variety of codes.

"We've gone from having one rugby team to having two last year and we'll potentially have three this year. We'll still stay a netball school but we'll become a rugby school as well," St Mary's rugby convenor Mark Hurley said.

As for Savea, this isn't the first coaching stop on the road to becoming the next Steve Hansen or Chris Boyd.

"Nah mate, I just want to give back to the girls. I personally believe there's not much awareness of women's rugby in Wellington and probably New Zealand. Just seeing this talent here, it's so scary thinking what they can achieve in the future."

 

 - Stuff

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