Are St Kents screwing the scrum? (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Schoolboy rugby embroiled in player poaching fight

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Schoolboy rugby embroiled in player poaching fight, sea level rises expected to hit vulnerable hardest, and embattled MP Maggie Barry faces inquiry.

We’re going to start with a story about rugby today. But if you’re already thinking of skipping it, I urge you to reconsider, because this story is just as much about culture, economics and education. At the heart of it is a fundamental question: what exactly are secondary schools for?

It started with this: The NZ Herald reported that St Kentigern College, an elite Auckland school and a rugby powerhouse, were effectively kicked out of the top school rugby division in the city, amid accusations that they poach top players. It has been described as “brazen,” and plenty of examples were given of outstanding young rugby players who ended up at the private school.

But on the other hand, St Kents say they’re playing by the rules, and other schools are merely acting out of self interest, reports Stuff. NZ Rugby has offered to step in and help settle the dispute, which could become an interesting test case ahead of an upcoming review into secondary school rugby.

Just how big a deal is school rugby? Put it like this – in a city where the sport struggles to draw a crowd to Eden Park for Auckland and Blues games, the fixture earlier this year between Kings College and Auckland Grammar drew about 3000 spectators. The hoopla that surrounds the competition was outlined in this excellent feature by the NZ Herald’s Gregor Paul in 2015 – he noted the “good money paid to coaches who are not teachers and rugby scholarships are believed to far outnumber those offered for artistic or academic pursuits.” Players are even drug tested at national competitions, which might seem absurd to do with high school students, but it shows the seriousness with which it is taken.

Because the potential rewards for kids who make it to the top of school rugby are enormous. And a huge part of that is simply being in the right school where a scout is more likely to get a glimpse of a kid’s ability. There really is a sense that the only way to make it to the pro leagues is to be at an elite sporting school – outlined in this feature by the NZ Herald’s Dylan Cleaver. But from that, who knows. You could be an All Black, or play in the NRL, or all many of other opportunities to make a living through sport.

In the Stuff story linked above, Mount Albert Grammar School headmaster Patrick Drumm said the actions of St Kents betrayed a ruthless and cynical mentality that went against what schooling should be about. “In essence, we think developing good young people is about being in a school for its entirety, from year nine to 13.” But Herschel Fruean, who runs the schoolboy rugby ranking system HSTop200.com, says the flipside is that for a lot of these lads, rugby is a ticket to a potentially better life than they’d otherwise have. “Some kids want to be lawyers, some kids want to be doctors, architects or engineers, some kids want to be rugby players.”

Mr Fruean also made the rather salient point that absolutely every top rugby school was at it – offering scholarships to kids from other schools, and sometimes even other cities or countries. That’s what makes this so remarkable. By going public with their boycott of St Kents, the other schools in Auckland have ripped the scab off what previously existed more as rumblings and rumours. It’s a moment of reckoning after the explosive growth in prestige attached to school rugby – a phenomenon many believe has got out of control.


Sea level rises are expected to hit the most vulnerable hardest, says a new report covered by Radio NZ. The report says the policy approach to the effects of climate change should be “ethically robust,” so as not to leave the poor bearing the worst of the brunt. It added that sea level rises are “entirely predictable,” but unless proactive action is taken, existing inequalities would be exacerbated. This makes for a good excuse as well to re-up Stuff’s fantastic Beach Road feature about this issue.


Embattled North Shore MP Maggie Barry is now facing an Auditor General inquiry, laid by a former staffer, reports the NZ Herald. In particular, it will look into claims that she directed taxpayer funded staff to do work for the National Party, which is unlawful. If that is proven to have occurred, it would probably be worthwhile to have a more general inquiry across all parties in parliament, to make sure other MPs aren’t using Parliamentary Services staff in this way.


A groundbreaking new Auckland housing development has just won a battle over resource consent, reports Stuff. The Cohaus project in Grey Lynn will feature 20 apartments, financed by the people who will go on to live in them. It’s a model that has been used fairly regularly in some European countries, but is only starting to take off here. For an in-depth look at it, check out this great feature on the Pantograph Punch.


The change in government last year might have been unexpected, but it turns out senior public servants didn’t really make plans in case it happened, reports Radio NZ. The revelation comes out of a report obtained by RNZ, which was ordered by the new government after frustrations over how the transition was handled. There were also suggestions that the Ministerial and Secretarial Support Services wasn’t actually resourced properly to deal with the change of government.


A Green Investment Fund of $100 million was announced by the government yesterday, but there are reasons for skepticism. They’re outlined in this piece by Stuff’s Hamish Rutherford, who notes first of all that it’s a fraction of the money in the provincial growth fund. But Green Party leader James Shaw says the fund will give the country an opportunity to make money, while also lowering emissions, reports Radio NZ.


The government considered pulling out of financial support for the America’s Cup over ballooning costs, reports Newstalk ZB. But as minister David Parker says, they’re now committed – pretty much regardless of how much costs further spiral. Auckland Council will also have to up their contribution.


A major report on teenage viewership of pornography has been released, with some startling headline statistics. However, to just focus on those stats would be misleading, so fortunately writer and high school teacher Bernard Beckett has delved into the nuance of the report. He has been working in this area for a while, and argues that the response shouldn’t be one of knee-jerk restrictions – rather, better sexuality education will do a much better job of keeping teenagers safe.


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Right now on The Spinoff: Madeleine Chapman spent a week living as controversial speaker Jordan Peterson, but she came out of it with an incredible piece of feature writing. Don Rowe writes about Māori becoming a playable faction in the wildly popular Civilization series of games. And I was rather tickled by this Alex Casey piece, telling the story of how a death metal band came to play on the Erin Simpson show. Watch the full video with sound on, you won’t regret it.

Also, music editor Henry Oliver would really love you to fill out this survey about the year in tunes. It’s very quick and easy, and will help him out with coming up with his Best Of 2018 stuff later in the month.


Best Journalism of 2018: Today’s piece comes from Leroy, who is nominating an excellent use of interactive tools from NZ Herald data journalist Keith Ng. You might remember a lot of battles went on during the course of the year over details of Operation Burnham in Afghanistan, and whether it was accurately portrayed in the book Hit and Run, by Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager.

In particular, the NZDF disputed where the book said the SAS operation took place, saying it was wrong, and that invalidated the premise of the book. So where they correct? Well, Keith Ng’s interactive was a clever and wry method of testing the claim. Keep scrolling down and following the instructions, you won’t be disappointed.


The final cricket test between the Black Caps and Pakistan is incredibly delicately poised, with the series locked at 1-1. At stumps on day 2 the Black Caps were behind by 48 runs in their second innings, with eight wickets in hand – so not a great position, but also just one good day of batting away from a potentially match-winning lead. Kane Williamson is in with Will Somerville, a nightwatchman and complete bolter of a debutant who earlier in the day sparked a Pakistani collapse with four key wickets.


From our partners: Lithium-ion batteries are magnificent feats of engineering and vital for renewable energy. But if we’re not careful with them, they’ll create enormous environmental problems, writes Vector Senior Sustainability Advisor Juhi Shareef.


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