A broad smile came across Francis Douglas Memorial College coach Tim Stuck's face when he was told that his New Plymouth Boys' High School rival Daryl Lilley had labelled his side clear favourites for today's interschool fixture.
As Stuck pointed out, it doesn't happen very often.
"I wouldn't see Boys' High ever as underdogs," he said. "The teams they have played are pretty decent sides who have performed very well. I wouldn't see us as clear favourites, not at all."
Lilley's reasoning was clear.
His side head into the match off the back of two fairly comprehensive defeats against Auckland Grammar and St Patrick's Silverstream, while Francis Douglas enjoyed a third successive win over Palmerston North Boys' High School.
Not that Stuck downplayed the chances of his side beating their cross-town rivals and advancing in the New Zealand secondary schools knockout competition.
"We've got a good crew of young men," he said. "The season has gone better than I thought, too, especially with two good wins over De La Salle and Palmerston North. The important thing is when you come to your local derby against New Plymouth, those results count for nothing."
Counting for nothing might be pushing it because winning form is better than the opposite, no matter who a side is facing.
A 24-10 win to Francis Douglas last year was their most comprehensive ever and has probably shown once and for all that little separates the schools anymore.
Stuck, like captain Jordie Barrett, emphasised this game does not define the season, though it can help move it along nicely.
"If you can get them out of that mindset, then it's better for the team. It is an important game but it's not the end of the world if you lose."
Stuck will look for key performances from a number of his senior players such as Barrett, as well as the well-performed Du'Plessis Kirifi on the side of the scrum, and influential first five-eighth Eli Kneepkens.
Lilley, too, will need his captain Daniel Waite, who has been shifted out a place to second five-eighth, to give his side plenty of direction, while he will want his forward pack to try for some early dominance.
The coach, in his second year in the job after he left Southern to take up a role of director of rugby at Boys' High, was pleased with how the week had gone and how his side had prepared.
"Compared to the last few weeks, when we've had midweek games, it's been good to have the whole week to build up. It's enabled us to get a normal week's training in," he said.
"It's allowed us to work on everything and not have to try and cram it all into one training."
Lilley has almost a full squad to choose from, the exception being centre Matt Guthrie, who has been ruled out with concussion.
Despite some early season losses, Lilley thought his side had played some pretty good rugby at times. The secret now was to expand that out for longer periods.
"We've been playing against some pretty big, explosive players, so we have to string those good phases along and make sure they are not just five or 10 minute periods."
Asked, as a coach, how he would do that, he replied that it was all about giving his players continual work-ons at training. At the end of the day, Lilley thought his side would really need to pull together as a team to win.
"We've obviously got a couple of key players and Daniel Waite is one of them, as well as [prop] Shaye Hill in the forward pack, who can fire the boys up. If we are to win then I think it will be a performance that the boys won't look back on and say ‘he played well and he played well'. As I said, it will be a team performance."
The atmosphere at Yarrow Stadium could also be a factor for the players, with many of them not having experienced playing inside such an arena.
FRANCIS DOUGLAS MEMORIAL COLLEGE vs NEW PLYMOUTH BOYS' HIGH SCHOOL
Yarrow Stadium 2.15pm today
Referee: Cam Stone
- Taranaki Daily News
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