Matt Stevenson- First XV rugby player


As a 67kg First XV rugby player it helps to be quick.

In today's modern game, even secondary schools players are getting bigger and stronger so for diminutive Waimea Combined Schools fullback Matt Stevenson, it's meant finding an alternative means of expressing himself on the rugby field.

At just 67kg and 1.78m-tall, Stevenson's answer lies in his impressive combination of speed and footwork that's seen him score some spectacular tries since Waimea Combined was introduced last season into the UC Championship Crusaders region secondary schools competition.

The Waimea Combined Schools concept is an amalgamation of players from Waimea College, Nayland College, Garin College, Motueka High School and area schools involving players from Golden Bay, Tapawera and Murchison.

Stevenson's scored five tries in Waimea's last two games, including a hat-trick in the 40-29 win over St Thomas' of Canterbury two weeks ago at Waimea College.

The 18-year-old Year 13 Garin College student is a perfect example of the increased opportunities provided by the exposure to a quality and well-established schools competition and that without it, his options would probably have meant him playing age-grade rugby for either the Marist or Stoke clubs.

"It's been pretty cool, mainly just learning," Stevenson said of the Waimea team's timely UC Championship promotion.

"We're not very big, we're pretty small actually, and we've just had to learn how we can take on the bigger teams and we've just used [the ball] out wide way more."

He recorded 11.6sec in finishing second for Garin College in the 100m at the Tasman secondary schools regional athletics meeting at Saxton Field earlier this year, but as for his own attacking ability, it's not something he particularly dwells on.

"It's just [about] getting that ball out wide. I don't really think about it much ... just get to the try-line I guess. If I see some space I'll just go."

He played for the Tasman under-18s last season and for the Nelson Bays under-15s and under-16s prior to that. So he's clearly in the system.

He's still unsure about where he'll be next season although is eyeing up physiotherapy as a profession, which would likely mean studying in either Dunedin or Auckland. But rugby will always be on the agenda.

Waimea Combined made a slow start to this season's competition with losses to defending champions Christchurch BHS (52-21) and Rangiora HS (27-17) before wins over St Thomas' and Burnside HS (33-10).

"Most of the boys have just come up from [under] 16s so it's quite a big change coming straight into First XV. They're all just learning the game and I think it's starting to click more now."

They face arguably their biggest game of the season on Saturday when they host unbeaten Nelson College at Waimea College, although Stevenson said they certainly won't need any motivation.

"I'm just buzzing to get into it really, I just want to play well against them. The whole team is pretty pumped, they're our biggest game of the year [and] I think everyone's ready to get into it.

"I think we've got a good chance if we play our structures right and just play hard. I reckon we've got a good chance."