Above: Saint Kentigern College recently won the Auckland 1A title. Can they emulate Mount Albert Grammar School's win last year and win for the first time since 2012?
The National Top Four First XV finals will be held at the Rugby Institute in Palmerston North this weekend. There are three competitions and a truckload of drama guaranteed.
Hine Pounamu Trophy – Girls 1st XV
10.30am – Southern Cross Campus vs St Mary’s Wellington
11.45am – Hamilton Girls’ High School v Southland Girls’ High School
1.30pm – Rangitoto College v Feilding High School
2.45pm – St Peter’s College Cambridge v St Andrew’s College
Barbarians 1st XV Trophy
1.10pm – Saint Kentigern College v Hastings Boys’ High School- Televised
2.55pm – Hamilton Boys’ High School v Southland Boys’ High School -Televised
Sunday 10th September
Hine Pounamu Trophy – Girls 1st XV
10am – 3rd v 4th
10.40am – Final - Televised
12.30pm – 3rd v 4th
12.25pm – Final – Televised
Barbarians 1st XV Trophy
1.30pm – 3rd v 4th
2.20pm – Final - Televised
Hurricanes: Hastings Boys’ High School
Hastings Boys’ High School are the only unbeaten team at the tourney and made the final in 2016 when they were beaten 13-14 by Mount Albert Grammar School.
Hastings won 18 out of 19 last year and have been even better in 2017 winning 18 games and sharing the Super 8 final with Hamilton BHS.
Hastings have scored 1121 points and conceded a mere 105 in 2017. Wing Kini Naholo has crossed for 40 tries and Hastings have posted school-record wins over:
Palmerston North BHS, 100-0
Napier BHS, 38-3
Gisborne BHS, 70-0
Rotorua BHS, 53-0.
Mount Albert Grammar School, 43-7
St Patrick’s College, Wellington, 106-5
Rongotai College, 55-0
St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, 47-17
Hastings had seven starters in the Hurricanes Under-18’s who beat the Crusaders 25-10 in July. The have threats all over the park.
Players to Watch: Danny Toala (second-five), Kini Naholo (wing), Lincoln McClutchie (First-five), Folau Fakatava (halfback), Devon Flanders (No.8), Jeriah Mua (openside), Josh Tevita-Metcalf (prop)
Chiefs: Hamilton Boys’ High School
Hamilton have won 255 out of 306 matches since 2003, including 12 out of 16 this year. Hamilton have been to the National Top Four nine times and won in 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014.
Hamilton shared the Super 8 title with Hastings, the best result anyone has achieved against Hastings this year.
Hamilton has a robust midfield and is particularly powerful in the forwards. They are always super fit and will be looking to improve from their third placed finish last year.
Players to watch include hooker Tane Te Aho, loose forwards Charles Alaimalo and Tevita Fa'aukafa and centre and captain Quinn Tupaea who were all Chiefs Under-18 reps.
Blues: Saint Kentigern College
Saint Kentigern College returned to the National Top Four for the fifth time in sevens seasons having won the National co-ed title with a 20-2 record in 2011 and the boys crown with a faultless 20-0 record in 2012.
St. Kent’s lost 15-5 to Hastings BHS in pre-season, but thumped South Island finalists Christchurch BHS 46-6.
St Kent’s was the top qualifier and winner of the 1A Auckland grade winning 11 out of 13 games, including a 26-19 triumph over Sacred Heart College in the final. St Kent’s was down 19-6.
St. Kent’s key players are Etene Nanai, the fullback and midfielder signed to the Warriors, Mitchell Gibson an openside flanker and brother of new All Black training squad member Blake Gibson. First-Five Rivez Reihana was in the Blues Under-18’s and plays with great poise.
South Island: Southland Boys’ High School
Southland return to the National Top Four for the second year in a row after beating Christchurch BHS 36-31 in the South Island final, reversing a 17-30 loss to the same opposition in pre-season.
Southland scored two notable wins against Otago BHS 13-12 in May and 29-27 in the Highlanders final in late August. Southland was down by 15 points in that match.
Southland has proven very tough to topple in Invercargill, dropping just one match in two years. They beat University, who were resounding premier Colts champions, 13-12 at home, but lost heavily away.
Southland were fourth in Premier Colts, developing a habit for winning close matches, but suffering some large defeats on the road.
Southland have some fine talent. Locks Sean Jansen and Ben Paulin are rugged and consistent. Captain and No 8 Curtis Williams leads from the front with his work rate and in the backs Ben Pope (fullback) and Kaleb Talamahina are known to cause the opposition hassles.
Hurricanes: St Mary’s College
St Mary’s College were runners up last year and have impressed again defending their Wellington title, winning nine games on the trot and the final 51-12 against Aotea College. Additionally, the 2016 Condor Sevens champions won the Sanix World Youth Sevens in April.
St Mary’s have been assisted in the coaching department by All Black Ardie Savea. St Mary’s most accomplished players are centre and New Zealand age group netball rep Ana Puleiata, skilful first-five Cheyne Copeland and No.8 and captain Dhys Faleafaga who scored three tries in the Hurricanes Regional final victory against Manakura last Saturday in Palmerston North.
Expect openside Damaris Samani and prop Laina Semu to feature prominently as well.
Blues: Southern Cross Campus
Southern Cross Campus made the National final in 2015 and were beaten by Hamilton Girls’ High School. Southern Cross have been Auckland champions for the last four years and in this season’s final beat Onehunga High School 24-17 after winning six round robin games and a semi-final outscoring opponents 216-83.
Prop, Luti Sikolau, first five, Jaime Patuki, centre, Sarah Filimoeatu, No. 8, Tuiala Iakopo and Idlequinn Tapasoa have been involved in all four Auckland successes and will be key personnel at the Nationals.
South Island: Southland Girls High School
Alena Saili produced a star turn in last year’s final, scoring three tries in Southland’s 46-29 win over St Mary’s College. Saili has moved on, but Southland employs and relies on a whole squad mindset. Of vital importance are the leaders within that approach and they are lock Jessica Dermody who has captained the team this season, vice-captain Amy du Plessis is an influential player in the ten jersey and Bree Thomas leads the loose forwards.
Southland have lost seven players from their Championship winning squad from last year. They have 16 players returning. The forward pack remains largely intact. The backline has a reasonably new look to it with some positional changes and new players from the 2016 squad. Southland has six Year 9 and 10 players who have been a part of the squad building depth for the future.
Southland defended their local title winning all eight games and outscoring opponents 418-62. The Highlanders final was won by default after Otago Champions St Hilda's was unable to field a team. In the South Island final Christchurch Girls’ High School was beaten 38-5.
Chiefs: Hamilton Girls’ High School
Hamilton Girls’ High School have won the National title twice in the last three years and appear to have a strong chance again. Apart from a narrow 12-10 win in the Chief's Trophy final against Tauranga Girls’ College to earn their place in Palmerston North, Hamilton Girls’ have been imperious in 2017.
Hamilton were winners of the Waikato Secondary School competition, scoring 650 points and only conceding a single try. Additionally traditional fixtures were won against: Auckland Girls Grammar, 50-0, Tauranga Girls’ College, 65-18, New Plymouth Girls, 72-0.
The players to watch for Hamilton include midfielder Jazmin Hotham who was the player of the Condor Sevens last year. No.8 Lonita Ngalu who is a powerful ball carrier with exceptional speed for a loosie and has just been selected in the Waikato Women's NPC team. Montessa Taikarena boasts exceptional speed out wide.
Chiefs: St Peter’s Cambridge
St Peter’s return to Nationals again seeking an improvement on third last year. St Peter’s had a strong Central North Island campaign beating fellow top four side Feilding HS and eventual winners Wesley College who St Peter’s came unstuck against in a close semi-final replay.
St. Peter’s are a structured team who are particularly strong in the forwards spearheaded by Chiefs Under-18 prop Ollie Norris and lock James Thompson. Out wider midfielder Paula Mahe is a threat tough to contain.
Crusaders: St Andrew’s College
St Andrew’s is celebrating their 100th season and was only one point short of reaching the UC Championship semi-finals, winning a solid 10 out of 14 games, including a 19-10 victory against Christ’s College on Land Rover First XV rugby.
Additionally, St Andrew’s beat Scots College 37-35 at the annual quad tournament before losing the final 19-47 to Saint Kentigern College.
St Andrew’s have a big, mobile and well-organised pack. Prop Jack Rose and hooker and captain Shilo Klein are instrumental and first-five Llew Johnson has good vision, good pace and controls the game well.
Hurricanes: Feilding High School
Feilding High School are the defending champions and three times winners overall. A pre-season trip to Brisbane proved to be a worthwhile exercise playing against four quality sides and winning three matches.
Feilding won eight out of ten games and were runners up to Wesley College in the Central North Island competition. Feilding was ahead 28-11 in the final, but lost on a last play try.
Notable victories were achieved against Wellington College, St. Paul’s Collegiate and Wesley College earlier in the season.
Feilding had five elimination games in 15 days, a week off and then the Hurricanes final against Porirua College. Feilding won five of these games, four on the road and one at a neutral venue to prove their considerable character.
The Manawatu Sevens champions and Condor runners up last year feature four players who were members of the Hurricanes Under-18’s: Jack Fleury (prop), Ethan McQuinlin (prop),
Tyler Moeau (openside) and Josiah Maraku (centre).
First-five Kody Edwards was selected, but didn’t attend due to concussion.
Blues: Rangitoto College
Rangitoto made the semi-finals of the 1A North Harbour competition for the first time since 2014 and beat eventual champions Rosmini College in round robin, finishing with 10 wins in 15 games. Additionally Mount Roskill Grammar, Keri Keri College ( Northland ) and Aorere College have been accounted for in 2017, the later 11-8 in the Blues Regional final.
Rangitoto have twice won the North Harbour title in 1990 and 1991 and are on debut at Nationals.
The players to watch include Caleb Leef (Blues 17’s) who kicked the winning penalty against Aorere and is a playmaker. Josh Corrigan a Blues 18 rep in the midfield is devastating on attack, and captain and No.8 Josh Tanner is the leading try scorer with 14.