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Irish back row Porter makes big impact in New Zealand schools rugby

The former PBC student has shown his promise for Christ’s College and the Crusaders U18s.

TOMORROW, ONE OF the great schoolboy rivalries in rugby will get a new chapter as Christchurch Boys’ High School [CBHS] defend their Crusaders Secondary School title against Christ’s College.

CBHS are the favourites but Christ’s College can call on a talented team that includes promising Irish back row Amhlaoibh Porter.

IMG_5721 Porter on his way towards the tryline against Wellington College. Source: Christ's College

Based just 2km apart in the city of Christchurch, these two schools have been doing battle since 1892 and Boys’ High – renowned for having produced more than 40 All Blacks - have won more often than not.

Christ’s College – known simply as ‘College’ – have had some tough years as underdogs in the rivalry but they have been on the rise in recent times.

Last year, they recorded their first win over Boys’ High since 2000 – with Porter in the team – and now they find themselves in the final of the UC Championship, with the influence of ex-All Black Reuben Thorne as head coach having been important.

Promising Corkonian blindside/number eight Porter is an integral part of the College team. A former captain of PBC Cork’s Junior Cup side, Porter has played for the Crusaders U18s and is regarded as a hot prospect in the Canterbury region.

Porter arrived in Christchurch in 2016 as a 15-year-old, intending to get a season’s experience in New Zealand after his Junior Cup campaign with PBC but has ended up also staying for Years 12 and 13 – the equivalent of fifth and sixth year in Ireland.

The connection to College was ex-Munster prop and Christchurch native Peter Borlase, who had befriended Porter’s father, Humphrey, during his time in Cork and linked the Porters to one of his former teachers at Boys’ High, Stephen Dods.

IMG_5589 Porter, second from left, captained Pres to McCarthy Cup success in 2015. Source: Christ's College

“I was going to Christ’s College from Boys’ High at the time and said, ‘How about we get Amhlaoibh into College, with a new programme?’” explains Dods, who is the master in charge of rugby at Christ’s College.

“He has made incredible progress since then. Amhlaoibh initially planned to stay for a year, but he liked it so much and he made the Canterbury U16 team in his first year here, so he thought he would stay on.”

After helping College to their first-ever U18 Canterbury Colleges title, being named forward of the year at the school, and playing for the Canterbury U16s in 2016, Porter’s potential was recognised again last year with selection for the Crusaders Junior Knights’ development squad, essentially the Crusaders U18 selection.

Porter was back in that side this year, playing in a narrow defeat to the Chiefs U18s in July. His involvement with that Crusaders team puts him in the national picture and Dods says Porter is “pushing on the door of the New Zealand Schools team, he’s in with a chance.”

“He’s tall and strong and he’s a very focused young man,” continues Dods, who has fond memories of nine years living in Ireland in the 1990s, when he played with and coached Suttonians and Old Belvedere RFC.

“Amhlaoibh has been playing blindside for us but he’s probably a number eight. He’s a very good lineout forward so that works at blindside but that’s not to say he won’t end up at number eight.”

Amhlaiobh Porter Porter in action for PBC in the 2016 Junior Cup. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The New Zealand Schools and Schools’ Barbarians squads will be selected in September, but before that Porter will do his best to help College to UC Championship success and on into the National First XV Championship, where the regional winners face off.

Post-school next year, Porter plans to attend the University of Canterbury and attempt to make his way into the Crusaders’ academy set-up.

“Hopefully he will pop out on the other side as a Super Rugby player,” says Dods.

Having spent 14 years as rugby coordinator at Boys’ High and watched the likes of Brodie Retallick, the Franks brothers, Anton Lienert-Brown, Matt Todd and Colin Slade come through the ranks there, Dods is in a fine position to gauge Porter’s potential.

“I’ve coached a lot of good players,” says Dods. “We had 11 All Blacks come through Boys’ High in my time there and he’s up with all of those guys, there’s no doubt about that.

“It’s just a matter of how he develops once he leaves school, whether he gets really good coaching and things like that.”

Christ’s College has certainly been a fine place for Porter to learn over the last two years. A fee-paying private school that caters to day and boarding boys, College’s rugby programme has been completely renewed since Dods joined the school in 2015.

IMG_5805 Porter has been playing mainly on the blindside this year. Source: Christ's College

Porter’s success with the school means Dods would be open to having further Irish influence at College in the coming years.

“I’d love that because I’ve spent so much of my time in Ireland and we’ve got Ronan O’Gara here in Christchurch now working with the Crusaders,” says Dods. “He’s quite close to Amhlaoibh and his family.

“Ronan is very highly thought of by lots and lots of people in this province and the word is he’s made a big difference to the Crusaders, adding a new voice and a slightly different way of doing things, which can be refreshing.

“I’d love to get more Irish players playing a season here, just to develop them in a different style of rugby.

“It would be good for New Zealand players to go over there and sample Ireland’s schools rugby too because it would give them an experience of a different type of game. It would be great for some of our guys to go to Ireland.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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