Keeping sharp eyes on First XVs

SHARE
Specialist . . . Few, if anyone, would be able to match Herschel Fruean's knowledge of First XV rugby. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Aucklander Herschel Fruean is making life a whole lot easier for talent scouts, and agents, searching for new rugby and rugby league talent.

He travels all over the country studying First XV rugby and has people sending him information, video footage and tip-offs on players and teams.

Once he has the information, Fruean ranks the top schoolboy players in the country (200 of them) as well as the best First XVs, and places them on his website which is no doubt studied intently by agents and others. He ranks year 11 and 12 players as well.

“I’m on my own with this – no funds, no information – I fund it all myself and let the public judge whether I’m right or wrong.

“I do a column for the New Zealand Herald, my wife works and if great people want to give me money, OK.

“I’ve found it’s a way of getting more players noticed, especially from smaller places,” he said just before First XV players in the Highlanders under-18 team and a Crusader Junior Knights XV kicked off at Alpine Stadium in Timaru last Friday.

“They put a lot of effort in, some of them get up at 5am to go for a run.”

“I’m on my own with this – no funds, no information – I fund it all myself and let the public judge whether I’m right or wrong.”

His visit to Timaru was the first leg of a southern trip taking in Blenheim next day to watch another Crusader Knights team play Chiefs under 18, on Saturday, and Hurricanes-Blues under 18 at Taupo on Sunday.

With the standard of First XV rugby rising every year, he said it was harder to become a professional player.

“If you get to play in England, France or Japan for years, that’s success. It’s not all about the All Blacks.”

Damon McKenzie and Blake Gibson are two players he spotted early and there have been professional league players also.

His current top First XV player in the country is a prop from St Kentigern’s College, Tiaan Tauakipulu.

No 2 on his list is a first five-eighth from Francis Douglas College, who, should he advance to professional rugby and the All Blacks, will have commentators burning the midnight oil to make sure they can pronounce his name quickly and accurately: Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.

Fruean knew all about Timaru Boys’ High School flanker George Brown, who turned out for the Crusader Knights on Friday.

“He’s one of the technically sound flankers; some you get who are dual 6 or 8; he’s exactly what you want on the open side.”

His top First XV in the country is Hastings Boys’ High School followed by Otago Boys’ High School.

“Hastings have all-round talent built round returning players.

“But I don’t judge the First XV on their performance alone; I judge the whole rugby system in the school down the grades. Otago Boys,’ Christchurch Boys’ High are very good, so is Southland Boys’.

“They coach the fundamentals of rugby and have players who know core values.”

He liked First XV rugby because, for most players, it was the last chance to play with the “mates” they had grown up with, and he did not go along with the line that they were being placed under undue pressure.

“They know if they want to carry on, it’s up to them to do the work.

“A lot of them know it’s hard to be a professional player and a lot are realistic. They’re not dumb.

“Some parents can make them feel that there’s pressure on them but they just like playing First XV rugby.”

As to the realism aspect, Fruean said of the 30 players, not counting replacements, in the match at Alpine Energy Stadium, three would already be close to Mitre 10 standard but lacked the physical hardness required.

“Almost all will start in senior rugby next year but as for the pros, out of these two teams maybe two to three will become a professional.”