In the end the favourites prevailed when New Zealand’s biggest annual secondary schools sports event finished at Lake Ruataniwha today.
Rangi Ruru always seemed to have a lock on the Levin Jubilee Cup for the girls U18 eight, while Hamilton Boys’ High School won the boys’ equivalent, the Maadi Cup, for the 11th time when the Aon Maadi Cup concluded today.
It was an event which was fraught with problems getting it over the line due to Covid issues but ended in triumph for South Island rowing officials who pulled it off at very short notice. A sunlit afternoon, with a large, vocal clump of spectators clearing their throats ensured a noisy finish.
When the regatta began most smart money would have been on Rangi Ruru, but not so much would have been on the Christchurch school occupying two of the three spots on the dais.
Rangi No 1 won in 6min 54.19s from longstanding rivals St Margaret’s College (6:56.63) with the Rangi No 2-crew nabbing third in 6:58.88.
Cue double celebrations for 18 rowers and coxes.
Georgie Bethell, in the winning stroke seat admitted her crew were ‘’quite nervous’’ when they saw the times from the heats.
‘’But we had to trust ourselves, go back to basics. Once we got out in front, we had to just hold it there. In the last 100m it was just keeping on going and we knew we could do it.
‘’But St Margaret’s chased us hard at the end.’’
Hamilton Boys High had a disrupted season, courtesy of Covid and very little competitive work on the water.
There was a solid argument that the likes of Christ’s College – among the South Island crews who had a relatively smooth run of regattas – could be hard to stop when the racing got to the pointy end of the event.
After all, they have serious history in the event, having won the Maadi 13 times, second only to Wanganui Collegiate’s 17.
Hamilton was having none of that and made sure coach Bruce Holden’s birthday was one to celebrate, eventually winning by a length in 6:04.01. Christ’s College clocked 6:07.22 while Christchurch Boys High School took third in 6:08.10.
‘’We had one of our better starts and that helped us get into the race,’’ stroke Will Mackintosh said.
‘’We are big believers that once we hit the front, we can do it. Once we did, we just knew we had it. We’ve fought from the front all season.’’
Back to the women, and St Margaret’s stroke Jemma Burrowes made it clear they felt they were closing in over the final stages but ran out of track.
‘’I think we did get the result we wanted,’’ she admitted.
‘’I’m just so happy and proud that we had our best race. and I don’t think we could have done much better.’’
She did feel the gap was closing but took heart that the crew kept improving through the season.
About half the crew and cox are returning next year. That gives them something to work with, however Rangi Ruru are confident of having about 11 back for 2023 out of the two crews.
Burrowes, who is in her final year at school, pointed out that her crew have good friends in the Rangi camp ‘’so I’m very happy for them’’.
Rangi’s coach Logan Keys admires the talent in the St Margaret’s crew, and he predicted there will be the possibility of rowers from both schools uniting in national crews in the near future.
As for getting two places in the top three, ‘’We always knew we had a strong squad and we always wanted to put out a competitive No 2 crew and live by that value that it’s about the wider squad.’’
Even when Rangi No 1 had their nose in front, Keys wasn’t about to celebrate too soon.
‘’St Margaret’s have certainly got a wind in them, and we didn’t count our chickens until we crossed the line.’’
To round off a big week, Rangi also won the Star Trophy as overall top points winners.
They finished with 29 points – on the basis of five for each victory, three for second and one for third – heading off the impressive Wakatipu High School and Hamilton BHS on 24 each with St Bede’s and St Paul’s Collegiate of Hamilton on 16 rounding out the top five.
The day was notable for a string of tight finishes, none more so than the boys U16 eight final, in which Auckland’s St Peter’s College claimed third place over St Andrew’s College of Christchurch by a mere 0.002s.
And the ability for the South Island to host more regattas than the Covid-hit north showed out in the number of all-South Island podiums. They included the girls U18 single, U17 pair, eight and double scull.
And if you’re looking for a standout individual rower, try St Paul’s Collegiate’s Riley Wills, who entered three events and left with three gold.
His ambition for next year? ‘’To row for New Zealand.’’