Hamilton Boys' High School first XV will be at full strength when they prepare to take on Auckland's St Kentigern College this weekend at the National Top 4 competition in Rotorua.
The Super 8 Champions booked their place in the final four as the winners of the Chiefs region in a physically draining encounter where they prevailed 14-9 against rivals Wesley College last weekend.
Despite Wesley's physical presence, Hamilton Boys' coach Greg Kirkham pinpointed his side's defence as the telling factor that earned them the victory.
“It certainly was a tough battle.
"Wesley are usually a pretty physical side. Certainly on Saturday they were exactly that.
“It was one of those games where we probably won it on our defence rather than on our attack, really,” Kirkham said.
Fortunately for HBHS, everyone came through unscathed with no niggling injuries as they go into the knockout tournament in hopes of securing the school's third national schoolboy title.
However, Kirkham and his side are under no illusions that the business end of the competition means it is only going to get harder from here on in.
“As each game goes by we sort of know that the opposition gets harder and the competition gets a little bit stiffer," Kirkham said.
“Going into this game against St Kents will be a good battle.”
In his first year since taking over from Nigel Hotham - who is now the coach of the New Zealand Secondary Schools side, Kirkham is keen to rectify the disappointment of last year when the team did not make it into the top four. A different approach this year has had the side focusing on their own performance rather than on their competition and it has reaped its rewards.
Kirkham said having former All Black Carl Hoeft as his assistant had helped the side this year, with the front-rower being able to share plenty of knowledge with the players.
“Having Carl Hoeft as my assistant this year certainly added a bit to the team, especially with the forwards.
“His experience and the opportunity for him to come in and pass on his expertise to the players has certainly benefited [them], especially as an ex-All Black and professional rugby player.”
Looking forward to their semifinal, Kirkham knows his side will need to be focused on the task at hand in order to beat one of the in-form teams in the country.
He is aware of the threat St Kentigern pose and his team will be concentrating on their game plan and aiming to stick to it. “As we know with our opposition this weekend St Kents, they're pretty strong across the field. It's just looking at some of their strengths and making sure we can counteract those too.
“It's really playing our game, rather than worrying too much about what they're doing,” Kirkham said.
The semifinal between Hamilton Boys' and St Kentigern will be televised, along with the second semifinal where Otago Boys' High School will play Napier Boys' High School.