MORE than 250 young rugby players from country zones across the state will converge on The Armidale School (TAS) tomorrow for the 37th NSW Country Schools championships, one of the hallmark pathway events for junior rugby.
Players from New England, Central North, Far North Coast and Mid North Coast will face each other in both the 16s and open divisions, with Central West also fielding a team in the 16s.
Players will compete for the Bernie McGrane Shield (Opens) and the Don Wiburd Trophy (16s), as well as selection for the Country All Schools representative teams and a development squad that will tour Singapore and Hong Kong next April.
Tomorrow night, players and coaches will watch the telecast of the Australia-France Test, which will include Wallaby debutante Sam Carter, who was last year’s special guest at the championships.
During its 38-year history, Country Schools has hosted 37 championships, hosted several fixtures against touring international schoolboy sides, conducted 11 international development tours and boasted 14 players who have gone on to represent Australian Schools, and nine who have run on for the Wallabies.
Despite this success, this weekend’s tournament will be the last, a decision taken as the result of the changing landscape of schoolboy rugby.
NSW Country Schools was set up in 1977 specifically to address the lack of opportunity for regionally-based players to gain access to NSW Schools representative teams, Country Schools President Matt de Dassel said.
“These opportunities have improved through other pathways and, despite the ongoing success of these championships, it has become unviable to continue,” he said.
Central North schoolboys are making a final charge at NSW Country Schoolboys berths this weekend.
New England has won the past two years but Central North coach Bernie Williams said that CN had the perfect balance to win this year.
“We have strength and experience across all positions,” Williams said.
“If they play to their abilities we will be successful.”
The CN opens boast a powerful pack, anchored by William Cowper’s Sam Hunt at loose head.
“He (Hunt) is one of the best props in the zone,” Williams said.
He will be joined by Scone’s Luke Porter and Carinya’s Dom Whitney in a big front row.
Tall timber in the locks and fast and tough back-rowers like McCarthy’s Ryan Witherden at number eight make the CN pack a force.
“This forward pack working together will secure and turn over a lot of good ball for our dazzling backs,” Williams said.
Kick-off will be at 9am tomorrow, going right through to the presentations and selections announced around midday on Sunday.