Leading Auckland rugby school St Kentigern has now decided to review its system of scholarships into its 1st XV – telling parents it has listened to their feedback and “some re-balancing is required”.

In a stance quite distinct from its defensive response two weeks ago to revelations 10 other schools would refuse to play its 1st XV in 2019, St Kent’s headmaster and chairman wrote to the “St Kentigern community” this afternoon saying they “share the concern passed on by a number of you.”

A fortnight ago, the same pair said St Kent’s  does “not accept claims that…. we recruit players, which we do not do,” and the school immediately complained to Sport NZ about the actions of its critic schools, prompting an inquiry led by an independent barrister.

Today’s letter instead tells parents and Old Collegians the school hopes matters can be resolved quickly and amicably “in the interests of good relationships across all schools and school sports generally.”

It is clear the school has had some pushback from its own community worried about the First XV scholarships. “Some rebalancing is required in our approach to the First XV programme.”

The change in tone will please some of the schools who made a stand against St Kent’s big spending recruitment of top players.

After St Kent’s revealed it had taken five boys on under full scholarships, all of whom played for 1st XVs outside the Auckland area, the group of other schools worried by the poaching and money involved decided to effectively boycott St Kent’s next year.

News of the schools’ boycott was broken by the New Zealand Herald and led to a spirited public debate about the school’s values and win-at-all-costs attitude.

The boycotting schools, Aorere College, Auckland Grammar School, De La Salle College, Dilworth School, Kelston Boys’ High School, Liston College, Mt Albert Grammar School, One Tree Hill College, Sacred Heart College and St Peter’s College, were effectively joined by the top North Island schools – the Super 8 First XVs – who also criticised St Kent’s recruitment.

The Auckland schools found the poaching by St Kent’s to be morally and ethically reprehensible, according to the Herald, and formed a new policy on recruitment that they put to St Kent’s headmaster David Hodge to sign. He declined, as did King’s College. The other schools then said they would decline to field their teams against St Kent’s next season.

Hodge and the St Kent’s chairman Dr John Kernohan said in the letter today that a review of the college’s sports programme would be accelerated as a “high priority”.

“Early in 2019, we will form a working group from our community to consult with parents, students, staff and Old Collegians to prepare recommendations for changes to the sports programme to both the address the issues that have been raised and ensure they do not recur in the future.”

“We will review our approach to sports scholarships at the First XV level and more generally.”

The letter said a new director of sport, Richard Stead, would be closely involved in the review and would have the headmaster and board’s full support in adopting any recommendations.

St Kent’s would work with the independent panel set up following its counter-complaints. “What we want to see is that our boys get to enjoy playing rugby with their peers and and that all schools have clear rules and transparency for future seasons.”

The panel includes barrister Tim Castle, former Diocesan School principal Gail Thomson and former All Black Ian Jones.

St Kent’s, multiple title winners this decade, had an unbeaten run in Auckland’s 1A First XV competition this year but were shock semifinal losers to eventual winners St Peter’s, who went on to win the New Zealand schools title. 

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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