The 12 teams meeting in Palmerston North for the Top 4 Barbarians Schools Championship have been decided These are:
Saturday is crunch day for those that are still standing in the chase for the National Top 4 places next week in Palmerston North. Two of those places – both in the Girls – have already been decided, with the remaining 10 to be known by late afternoon on Saturday.
There are four appetising clashes. In the north the Blues champion will be found on the North Shore when Harbour 1A winners Rosmini College take on their Auckland counterparts from across the bridge, St Kentigern College. Both sides endured tough finals; Rosmini upset the more fancied Westlake Boys 18-12 in the Harbour final, while St Kent’s came back from 6-19 down to beat Sacred Heart 29-19 and extends the latter’s lengthy title drought. Rosmini will undoubtedly feel they can win, but a repeat of their local heroics would be a major upset.
The Chiefs region will be fought out by a pair of old rivals in Super 8 pair Hamilton Boys and Rotorua Boys. Hamilton are the defending regional champions and followed up their sharing of the Super 8 title in the drawn final with Hastings Boys by making no race of last weekend’s qualifying match with Wesley College, pitching a 36-0 shutout. Rotorua were involved in a points-fest further south, prevailing 48-28 over another of their regular opponents in New Plymouth Boys. The pair met earlier in the year in Hamilton – venue for Saturday’s match – with the home team winning 34-7 and will be hot favourites.
Perhaps the biggest clash of the day is in Palmerston North, where two of the form teams of the year – Hastings Boys and St Patricks, Silverstream – clash on neutral turf from the Hurricanes crown. Hastings were pipped by Mount Albert Grammar in last year’s National Final, and that remains their only loss in the last two years. They rebounded from that draw with Hamilton to comprehensively dismantle an injury-depleted Wellington College 78-0 at home last year. Conversely Silverstream didn’t even make last year’s Wellington semi-finals, but this year’s side is one of the best in the school’s history, completing their first ‘clean-sweep’ of their traditional matches since 1988. They followed up their Wellington Premiership win by beating Palmerston North Boys 50-22 last Saturday.
Finally in the Deep South UC Championship winners Christchurch Boys make the journey to Invercargill to face current South Island champions Southland Boys in a repeat of last year’s decider. The hosts – who play their regular rugby in the Otago Colts competition – edged their rivals Otago Boys for the second time this year winning 29-27, while Christchurch finished top of their championship standings and booked their place by beating Timaru Boys 18-10 in the final.
As noted above, two of the four places have already been found. Defending champions Southland Girls were the first team to book their place in Palmerston North, beating Christchurch Girls 38-5 in the South Island final in Temuka last Saturday. The second is former national runners-up Southern Cross, who wrested the Blues title back from Kaipara College on Monday.
The remaining two matches have current Chiefs holders Hamilton Girls heading across the Kaimai’s to face Tauranga Girls, while in Palmerston North last year’s national runners-up and Condor 7’s champions St Mary’s, Wellington match up against a new face at this level in local school Manukura in the Hurricanes final. St Mary’s have been idle since beating Aotea College 51-12 in the Wellington final two weeks ago after injuries prevented Feilding High from meeting last weekend’s fixture, while Manukura beat Aotea 20-17 at the same stage.
Finally, in the Coed section three of last year’s finalists will be vying to make return trips. Last year’s National Champions Feilding High have practically taken out a mortgage on the Hurricanes berth in recent years and will be favoured to do so again this year, with Porirua College that latest in a series of challengers from the capital looking to knock them off. Feilding saw off Wairarapa College 43-18 in Masterton, while Porirua went straight through after Wairoa College were unable to travel.
2016 runners-up Aorere College will also look to return from the Blues region, but like St Kent’s also have to travel over the Bridge to face North Harbour opposition in Rangitoto College. It’s a difficult game to pick; arguably Aorere face a higher standard of opposition each week but only won twice in their 1A, while Rangitoto won 10 of 14 competition matches before falling to Rosmini in the semi-finals. Aorere progressed straight through to the final, while Rangitoto beat Northland coed winners Kerikeri 34-12.
In the Chiefs region St Peters, Cambridge will be looking to progress to another Top 4, with the CNI competition side hosting Bay of Plenty school Western Heights HS. St Peter’s thumped Te Awamutu College 64-6 in the Waikato provincial final, then saw off coastal Taranaki minnows Opunake High 42-8 in the regional semi-final. Western Heights have a more challenging progression, beating Tauranga’s Te Wharekura o Mauao 24-14 and then edging Counties-Manukau school Manurewa High 15-14 last Saturday, but will need to step up once again if they are to cause what would be an upset.
The one region that will have a different representative is the South Island with last year’s winner Burnside High not a factor this year. 2015 National winners St Andrews College have won their way through the Crusaders region, and will host Highlanders winner St Peters, Gore – who only progressed from a 12-all draw with Dunstan High by the first-try rule – for the place.
The National semi-finals take place next Friday, with the rotation this year pitting the Blues winners against the Hurricanes sides on one half of the draw in all three competitions, with the Chiefs teams up against the South Island representatives. The losers of those matches will then face-off on the Sunday in the 3rd v 4th contests ahead of the National Championship matches.