The nineties was an era of considerable strength for the First XV at King’s High School. Twice the school qualified for the National Top Four and three times they achieved a sweep of their annual traditional games.
The years 1978-1989 were bleak ones for the King’s High School First XV. A total of 43 interschool games were played and 34 defeats suffered. Their fortunes changed in 1990 when King’s High won all of their four interschool games for the first time since 1977. They attended the National Top Four for the first time and were beaten by eventual champions Wesley College in the semi finals. In interschool games, King’s beat Otago Boys’ High School 14-13 in their first win in that fixture since 1975. Scotland’s test referee Jim Fleming controlled their 12-11 victory over Southland Boys’ High School, the first victory by King’s in that match since 1977. Waitaki Boys’ High School was beaten easily, by 23-6, while the 17-12 victory over Shirley Boys’ High School featured the “tackle of the season” by star player Kupu Vanisi. Vanisi became an All Black in 1999 and played 66 games of Super Rugby for the Highlanders and Hurricanes.
Points For: 810
Points Against: 147
The Numbers: 1992-1994
In 1996 King’s won all four interschool games and even beat Auckland Grammar School on their way to the National Top Four, where they finished fourth. Two games from 1996 are especially famous in King’s folklore.
v Otago Boys’ High School – Won: 14-13
After an 18-17 win against Auckland Grammar School, a victory in which King’s fought back from an 8-17 deficit, King’s had to play Otago Boys’ High. Otago, with the wind at their backs, dominated proceedings in the first half, but a Brent Lawson try against the run of play and an Ashley Baron penalty had King’s ahead 8-3 at the break. In the second spell Baron kicked another penalty and a drop goal as King’s, aided by outstanding defence, held on for a narrow but memorable victory.
v Southland Boys’ High School – Won: 24-0
On a soft ground Ashley Baron kicked two penalties to give King’s High a 6-0 lead at halftime. In the second half Craig Merrilees scored a crucial try in the corner and Luke Hendren snatched an intercept try for the biggest win ever against Southland Boys’. King’s beat Southland 9-6 in a South Island championship semi-final later in the season to help them reach the Top Four. Two victories in the same season against Southland is a very rare feat for King’s. The quality of the 1996 team is reflected by the fact that future All Black Tom Willis (145 first class games) was the captain and Carl Hayman, who played 45 tests for the All Blacks and is regarded as one of New Zealand’s greatest props, was a second year player. In 1994-1995 Paul Miller, originally from Gore High School, was another future All Black in the King’s High XV, as was first-five Tony Brown who went on to score 171 points for the All Blacks.
In 1999 King’s High School once again completed a sweep of their annual interschool games. They also achieved a famous 22-20 win against Nelson College; James Kenny scored a last minute try to seal the win. However the victories over Southland and Otago were once again the highlights of the season.
v Otago Boys’ High School – Won: 29-13
The first win in Littlebourne for 24 years against Otago was achieved after future New Zealand cricket star and King’s High captain and first-five Brendon McCullum snatched an intercept and sprinted sixty meters to score a crucial try. Earlier Mita Gavin and David McLean also scored memorable tries in a famous victory, the largest since 1961.
v Southland Boys’ High School – Won: 16-15
Beaten 49-10 in 1998, King’s High was thought to have little hope in this match. However Solo Afioga had a “huge game” on the wing and scored a vital try and Rhys Lawson and his colleagues In the backline tackled all day, as King’s High scored a gutsy win.
Acknowledgments: Warwick Larkins Dave Henderson