Two Dilworth School rugby players.
Dilworth has been robbed of four competition points in the fiercely competitive 1A competition. (Design: Tina Tiller)

OPINIONSportsJuly 2, 2024

The Dilworth/Auckland Grammar saga proves we take rugby way too seriously

Two Dilworth School rugby players.
Dilworth has been robbed of four competition points in the fiercely competitive 1A competition. (Design: Tina Tiller)

After Dilworth beat arch-rivals Auckland Grammar, an immediate challenge overturned the historical result. The technicality caused Dilworth to lose four competition points, highlighting the larger issue of ambiguity and fragmentation in the rules.

All quotes from a Dilworth rugby representative previously in the article have been removed at their request. 

There are only 10 minutes left in the game. The Dilworth first XV is leading Auckland Grammar by just three points, fighting desperately to hold on for the school’s first ever Auckland 1A first XV win over their wealthy nemesis from down the road. With every second that passes, belief grows that the impossible might just be possible. Finally, the hooter blows and the referee calls full time. David has toppled Goliath. Despite being described as the upset of the season, the win will soon be shrouded in controversy.

Just days after the historic victory, Dilworth received a breach notice from College Sport Auckland, the competition’s governing body, about the eligibility of one of the Dilworth players. College Sport Auckland ruled that Dilworth failed to follow the new-to-school rules. However, Dilworth was adamant the school followed the College Sport rules to a tee, as the player in question missed the first six games of the season, including a promotion/relegation game, after transferring to Dilworth from St John’s College in Hastings. The stand down requirement is specified in section 5.1 of the bylaws which is intended to prevent excessive player poaching from larger and often more well resourced schools.

That’s when Dilworth coaching staff were told there was a separate code of conduct for the 1A rugby competition, driven by 10 of the participating schools, and aimed at preventing excessive player recruitment. While the College Sport bylaws included promotion/relegation games, it was unclear whether or not the separate code of conduct did. The Spinoff understands the Dilworth coaching staff were unaware of the separate code of conduct for the 1A rugby competition.

Speaking as a former Dilworth student and rugby player, there was no game we cared more about than the matchup against Auckland Grammar. Moving from the relatively relaxed North Harbour school rugby competition to the intense Auckland programme was a shock for me. My first ever game for Dilworth was against Auckland Grammar, and only 10 minutes into the match, there was a full team brawl. That’s when I realised how serious these Auckland boys were about rugby.

The two all-boys schools are only two kilometres away from each other, and like any longtime neighbours, they’ve had their fair share of feuds over the years. I remember hearing tales of infamous hooligan-like brawls involving the equally rugby-mad Dilworth, St Peters, and Auckland Grammar boys. When it came to first XV though, Auckland Grammar was unmatched, having won a total of 65 1A titles. It took Dilworth 109 years just to make the top grade.

The 2024 Dilworth first XV side that defeated Auckland Grammar.
The Dilworth first XV side that defeated Auckland Grammar.

You can imagine the shock then, when a school with a roll of just over 400 and at the bottom of the table defeated their unbeaten rugby-juggernaut neighbours. The result sent shockwaves through both old boys’ networks, even earning a shoutout from Dilworth’s only All Black and freshly minted Super Rugby Pacific champion Angus Ta’avao after his team’s championship win.

Sadly, pride is a bitch and it seems pride got the best of Auckland Grammar, who couldn’t stand the fact they underestimated and lost to their poor little brothers from down the way. It appears to have resulted in them sifting through rules and regulations to find a technicality to have the result overturned. Either that, or College Sport Auckland was exceptionally diligent in their work that day.

A Dilworth spokesperson says there were some intense deliberations about whether or not they should let the matter play out in court. However, in the end, Dilworth chose to take the moral high ground and forfeit the desperately needed four competition points from the match, with a caveat that the result would remain recorded as a win for Dilworth.

The rule in question was part of a code of conduct introduced in 2019 for the purpose of preventing ongoing poaching from top-tier schools of the best players from other, often less wealthy schools. Ironically, Auckland Grammar School was often seen as one of the schools known for poaching players from elsewhere.

If there’s any silver lining for Dilworth, it’s that the fiasco has encouraged College Sport to consolidate the rules into one definitive standalone document. Dilworth won’t speculate on whether they think the eligibility issue would have been raised had Grammar won the match, but is glad the rules are “being tidied up”.

The bigger picture is that these large, well-resourced, rugby-crazy schools take it all a little too seriously. There are stories about families being brought over from the islands and given jobs just so their kids can play rugby for a school, but losing everything when they don’t perform. There are other tales about children as young as 12 being approached by scouts and told that they will be given a full scholarship if they keep playing well. The pressure these kids must feel is next level.

Grammar will likely go on to place in the top four and battle it out for yet another title, while my alma mater will be happy just to remain in the competition.

Keep going!