Rebirth of Rugby

Date: 28 Feb 2023

Rugby has always been an integral part of Dilworth life, but the 2020 arrival of Director of Rugby Gareth Pickering has signalled a new dawn for the school’s flagship sport. More students per head of population play rugby at Dilworth than at any other Auckland secondary school, and the last couple of seasons have seen the school blaze a trail in Auckland’s fiercely contested schoolboy rugby competitions.

Last year the Dilworth 1st XV beat Sacred Heart for the first time in the school’s history and in 2021 they beat St Kentigern College, also for the first time. So why is Dilworth challenging so many of Auckland’s top schools? According to Gareth it starts with culture and hard work. Combine this with a strategic vision, quality people and a new high performance sport programme and the school rugby programme is well equipped for the future.

“When I came on board in 2020 the first thing we did was a review of rugby, and we brought in lots of great coaches who are passionate about helping our young men be the best they can be,” says Gareth.

Director of Rugby with rugby students

The number of coaches and managers shot up from 14 to 30 (including the likes of Sekope Kepu and Sam Ward), and the number of teams grew from five to nine. Ex-All Black Ant Strachan was appointed Head Coach of the 1st XV in 2021 and is now heading the high performance sport programme, offering Dilworth’s most talented athletes – including its top rugby players – the chance to compete at the highest level.

“Last year two students gained contracts to the Blues Academy, and the year before we had two on the rugby league pathway, one in the Warriors age group set up and the other in the North Queensland Cowboys. They achieved this because they played rugby at school – it’s the best exposure you’ll get for professional sport.”

This year a 50-strong squad of top players will make up the 1st and 2nd XV – a model that Gareth adopted during his 12 years coaching in Europe.

“Instead of putting 23 players on a pedestal for the season, we have 50 students chasing at each other’s heels. Everyone gets the same experience, the same coaching, and experiences the same culture. We’re growing leaders of tomorrow and we want to give everyone that opportunity.

Dilworth student at Rugby training

“Having a rugby experience is what we aspire to for our young men. Our Junior Campus team now attends the National Cambridge Intermediate Festival each year, and for the first time ever this year our Under 15s are going to a national tournament in Wellington, with our 1st XV travelling to the South Island for our annual tri-series and exchange with Christ College, the only other private boys school in New Zealand.”

These experiences provide students with the chance to develop their potential through sport. And not just on the field.

“We always say we leave it better than we found it, from the jerseys we wear to the changing rooms and the buses we travel on. The All Blacks have that saying ‘Better people, better players’, and I couldn’t agree more. If you don’t develop the person first, the player doesn’t exist.”