The schools which nurtured the All Blacks heading to the Rugby World Cup in France - Sky
What was in the water at Feilding High School in the 2000s?
Had it been known at the time, the secret recipe could have been bottled up and sold for mega-bucks to any rugby-playing nation thirsty for success.
Not only can the small rural North Island town’s one main secondary school lay claim to producing the equal-most All Blacks in the 2023 World Cup squad, but, in a trio featuring a whopping combined 334 test caps, two of the best New Zealand players of all-time, at that.
Sam Whitelock and Aaron Smith are two of the school’s most illustrious alumni, the All Blacks centurions, who will each go down as absolute greats of the game, having attended the institute alongside one another between 2002-2006.
And just three years after the pair left came one Codie Taylor, who spent his final year there, having moved from Horowhenua College in Levin.
Feilding High is one of four schools which can each boast that three players in Ian Foster’s 33-man squad graduated from their ranks.
New Plymouth’s Francis Douglas Memorial College of course had the Barrett brothers (Beauden, Scott and Jordie), Auckland’s Saint Kentigern College had Dalton Papalii, Finlay Christie and Tamaiti Williams, while Christchurch Boys’ High School had Brodie Retallick, Anton Lienert-Brown and Will Jordan.
Feilding High (roll 1600), though, is not a powerhouse rugby school like the private Saint Kents (2300), or single-sex CBHS (1400), and unlike the state-integrated FDMC (700), their allotment is not down to a single family.
That said, Whitelock’s brothers, George and Luke, do help increase their overall tally of All Blacks, while it’s their father, Braeden, who is credited with much of the school’s rugby success. To this day he still remains closely connected, years after coaching his own boys.
Principal Nathan Stewart, who has been at the school since 2000, labelled Whitelock senior, along with former principal Roger Menzies, and the late Rick Francis – a long-time sports mentor and coach of the 1st XV when the current stars all came through – “an absolute force of nature” for the players’ development.
“His [Whitelock’s] high standards, between him and Rick they brought in a red-book programme, where boys reflected on their performances, and everything’s written down and planned. There was a deliberateness to their actions.”
Whitelock and Smith spent three years in the First XV. It was the year after they left that the national co-ed title was introduced, with Feilding triumphing in Taylor’s final year in 2009, then also again in 2014 and 2016. The school last year won the Central North Island competition for the first time, and went back-to-back this season.
Their roll equates to a remarkable 10% of the town’s population, with Stewart noting there were many pupils travelling from outside the town due to liking what the school is about.
“First XV’s not the pinnacle here... the key thing at Feilding High School is good people values first, and then the aspirational nature, and then that aspirational nature gets contagious,” he said, adding that the flow-on effect of Whitelock, Smith and Taylor’s achievements has been huge.
“That re-lit a fire amongst people – they knew Sam, they knew Aaron, they know Codie. They then thought whatever their own personal passion was, go on and make huge opportunities become real for them.”
WHICH SCHOOL HAS PRODUCED THE MOST ALL BLACKS OF ALL-TIME? (2023 RWC squad members in brackets)
Auckland Grammar: 52 (Rieko Ioane)
Christchurch Boys’ High: 44 (Will Jordan, Anton Lienert-Brown, Brodie Retallick)
Wellington College: 35 (Dane Coles)
New Plymouth Boys’ High: 25
Nelson College: 22 (Leicester Fainga’anuku, David Havili)
Southland Boys’ High: 22 (Ethan de Groot)
Christ’s College: 22 (Damian McKenzie)
According to stats.allblacks.com, aside from the 151 All Blacks whose schools are listed as unknown, Auckland Grammar has the distinction of having the most alumni of any school to represent the national side.
Their most famous are Grant Fox, the No 10 for the 1987 World Cup victory on home soil, and Doug Howlett, the All Blacks’ record try-scorer, with 49 in 62 tests.
Rieko Ioane (35 tries in 62 tests) is the only former Grammar student in this year’s World Cup squad, with the winger-turned-centre a massive chance to surpass Howlett’s record in the near future.
Christchurch Boys’ High is second to Grammar with 44 All Blacks, including legendary former first-five Dan Carter, fellow accomplished No 10 Andrew Mehrtens, and centurion prop Owen Franks.
Carter (112 tests) and Mehrtens (70 tests) are the All Blacks’ leading points scorers in tests, with 1598 and 967 respectively.
From Christchurch Boys’ in the squad for France are outside back Will Jordan, midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown and centurion lock Brodie Retallick.
The only other schools with more than 20 All Blacks to their name are Wellington College, New Plymouth Boys’ High, Nelson College, Southland Boys’ High and Christ’s College.
There’s been some size from Southland this century.
The last four All Blacks to come from Southland Boys’ were front rowers – Ethan de Groot, hooker Corey Flynn and props Jamie Mackintosh and Clarke Dermody – with de Groot the established loosehead since last year.
De Groot is one of two Australian-born players in the All Blacks’ cup squad, along with fellow prop Tyrel Lomax, the son of former Kiwis and Canberra Raiders prop John Lomax.
Nine of the 33 were overseas-born: two in Australia, four in Tonga and one each in Samoa, Fiji and Scotland.