Rangiora High School’s Jermaine Pepe is hoping to make the Crusader Junior Knights rugby side for the second year in a row.
The team, which will have games against a Highlanders u18 side in Timaru and Chiefs u18 side in Blenheim will be selected after a three day training camp at St Andrew’s College this week.
Pepe, a year 13 student and deputy head boy, has been making the most of his rugby opportunities since arriving in Canterbury from the Cook Islands at the beginning of the 2018 school year.
The wing/fullback has had a steep learning curve after playing league for most of his life.
“League is definitely the predominant sport at home and most of the coaches only coached league.
“So there was quite a lot of things I needed to learn quickly particularly around structure, defence and communication.”
Pepe said the time spent in the classroom discussing strategies and game plans along with the video analysis of the game, was very different to what he had been used to in the Cook Islands.
However Rangiora High School’s director of sport, Kelvin Eder, said one of Pepe’s strengths is how he excels at this aspect of the game.
“Jermaine is a really quick learner and he’s a great communicator.”
As well as his selection into the Junior Knights last year, Pepe’s contribution saw the Rangiora High School 1st XV make the New Zealand Co-Ed schools’ final – a first for the school.
Rangiora High School has had a relationship with the Cook Islands since 2012.
Eder said a former head boy who was part Rarotongan, was visiting Rarotonga with his family when they realised how much talent a lot of the young boys had, but how limited some of their opportunities were.
The student development programme was set up after that.
Coaches from the 1st XV including Eder, travel annually to the Cook Islands and look at players who show talent. A maximum of four players but on average two, are selected as part of the programme.
Eder said Rangiora High School has developed a good relationship with the Ministry of Education in the Cook Islands.
“It’s really important that we were able to show that it’s not all about rugby, we wouldn’t send anyone home because they didn’t make the1st XV.
“We are committed to see the programme through which means providing the boys a homestay situation, education and rugby opportunities. As well as supporting them to progress into tertiary education. Whether that be University, Ara [Institute of Technology] or other vocational training.”
Despite the “absolutely freezing” conditions Pepe said he has loved his time in Rangiora and has enjoyed taking a leadership role in the 1st XV.
He is currently looking at a number of options for studying next year including Otago University and the University of Canterbury.
He said he realises the importance of education to fall back on.
“The ultimate goal is to able to play professional rugby, but you can’t play rugby forever so having a good education is really important.”