Club rugby in Wellington this weekend will, unfortunately, take place under a dark cloud following the passing this week of Wellington Axemen Colts player Daniel Baldwin.
The tragic events that started in his teams game against Paremata-Plimmerton at Ngatitoa Domain last Saturday have cast a pall over the game that will take time to heal, and its more than understandable if the minds of most - if not all - aren’t as focused as they otherwise would be.
The thoughts of the Club Rugby contributors are with Daniel’s family, friends, team and clubmates at the Wellington Football Club, and those who attended to him.
Every senior club and college match this weekend will observe a minute’s silence in Daniel’s memory.
Just three rounds remain until the grade splits for the Jubilee and Hardham Cup rounds; while this weekend also represents the mid-point in the season. Ten teams remain in contention to make the Jubilee Cup section but with only eight places available two are inevitably going to be disappointed.
As well as that, there is still the not-insignificant matter of where the Swindale Shield will wind up to be resolved as well. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what each team has to do:
Currently: 1st on 45 points
Remaining: HOBM (A), Norths (A), Johnsonville (H)
The Magpies maintained their unbeaten start to the season in their local derby with MSP, and with it became the first side to punch their ticket to the Jubilee Cup. They face a pair of tests on the road with tomorrow’s Bondy Memorial Cup clash against HOBM, then against Norths next weekend. If they’re still on top after those and the Swindale is up for grabs, you’d back them to get the win against Johnsonville in a fortnight. They make just one enforced change upfront with Alex Fidow now away on U20 duties and replaced by Poasa Poasa, but no fewer than five in the backs.
Currently: 2nd on 41 points
Remaining: MSP (A), Ories (H), HOBM (A)
If you’d told Norths they’d be in this position with three rounds to go at the start of the year they would have grabbed it with both hands. That long-awaited return to the Jubilee Cup isn’t confirmed yet – as things stand they’re a point short and with the trophy still within striking distance they still have plenty to play for. A win this week away at MSP would set up a tantalising clash at home against Ories next weekend, and those will determine what’s on the clash at HOBM to finish the round out. As it somewhat the norm they’ve made a number of changes with Chris Middleton, Parekura Lalaga, and Leon Ellison all absent, while Esi Komaisavai starts at halfback.
Currently: 3rd on 39 points
Remaining: Upper Hutt Rams (A), HOBM (A), Avalon (H)
The Goats loss to Wainuiomata wasn’t just an inauspicious start to life at Kelburn Park; it also meant that they now rely on Ories dropping a game if they are to have a shot at retaining the Swindale Shield. Getting back on track tomorrow when they butt heads against the Rams is therefore vital to at least keeping the pressure on, but it’s also highly unlikely they’ll be swamped by the field to miss out. Their side for tomorrow has a number of changes to that took to the field last weekend, with Sam Coventry and Matt Goosen the notable returnees.
Currently: 4th on 37 points
Remaining: Johnsonville (H), Wellington (H), Tawa (A)
Hutt Old Boys Marist
Currently: 5th on 35 points
Remaining: Ories (H), OBU (H), Norths (H)
The Hutt Valley pair are on something of an island in the table. Making up the ground to win the Swindale seems a longshot, but they aren’t completely clear of the goings on below them on the table either. Then there is the not insignificant matter of their remaining schedules.
Wainuiomata’s hard fought win over OBU made their credentials clear, and all three teams they have remaining sit lower than them on the table starting with tomorrow against Johnsonville where they will defend the Bill Brien Challenge Cup. It is also hooker Dion Lealofi’s 100th match for the side, and behind him there’s an unchanged backline from last weekend.
Conversely the Eagles will be bitterly disappointed with the McBain loss to Petone, and although they are at home the rest of the way it doesn’t get any easier with each of the current top three to visit the Hutt Rec, starting tomorrow on their Old Timers’ Day with Oriental-Rongotai. Glen Walters – who missed the McBain game – returns at #10, while Ben Power reverts to hooker with James O’Reilly not available.
Marist St Pat’s
Currently: 6th on 30 points
Remaining: Norths (H), Pare-Plim (A), Wellington (A)
Going into the season few would have thought that MSP would find themselves 5-5 at this stage of the season and at risk of missing the Jubilee Cup – alternating scintillating performances with headscratchers – given their level of talent, and only their accumulation of bonus points (10 so far) has them ahead of others with similar records. They can obviously make a statement against Norths, but with two of the bottom-four yet to play it seems unlikely they’d miss out even if they suffered another reverse tomorrow. James Zino replaces the injured Sean Bridge, while Dudley Parsons steps into the #10 jersey and faces his former team.
Currently: 7th on 29 points
Remaining: Pare-Plim (A), Upper Hutt Rams (A), Wainuiomata (H)
Despite beating Poneke last Saturday, Tawa find themselves in a similar predicament to last year when they faced some must-win games just to make the Jubilee Cup. They won those, and as we know went on to lift the Jubilee Cup. Five points tomorrow against Paremata-Plimmerton would be the minimum requirement, but even with that the game against the Rams next weekend could prove defining. They get a big boost with Peniasi Tokakece returning after breaking his arm two months ago, while three players – prop Evan Bishop, lock Toa Madar, and halfback Aaron Arthur – make their first Premier starts.
Currently: 8th on 29 points
Remaining: Poneke (H), Johnsonville (A), Upper Hutt Rams (H)
The Villagers took a massive step towards returning to the Jubilee Cup with their McBain success last Saturday. However they run the risk of undoing that if they can’t follow-up against Poneke tomorrow in what shapes as a potentially season-defining match for both sides, and not just for their interclub FJ Tilyard Memorial Trophy. Win that and then beat Johnsonville next week and the likelihood is that they’ll be safe, but if they don’t they will still have a mountain to climb; potentially involving a must-win clash against the Rams in a fortnights time. They have a few enforced changes tomorrow, with McBain two-try hero Losi Filipo away and Jack Ross moving to the back of the scrum.
Upper Hutt Rams
Currently: 9th on 27 points
Remaining: OBU (H), Tawa (H), Petone (A)
Currently: 10th on 24 points
Remaining: Petone (A), Avalon (H), Pare-Plim (H)
And then there’s the two on the outside looking-in. The Rams have found the going tough since their run of home matches against the tail-enders, and it would seem likely that they need at least two wins from their remaining three to make the eight. That won’t be easy, especially considering who they have left to play, and each of their opponents also have things to play for. As named, there is unchanged from last weekend’s loss to Norths.
Poneke still have the bottom pair to play – and both at home – and would fancy their chances of getting the maximum 10 points from those games. The problem for the Kilbirnie side is more immediate; if they don’t beat Petone tomorrow the possibility is that those two games could be irrelevant before they even get to them. They’ve named largely the same side that ran out against Tawa last Saturday, with Greg Foe named on the bench. Notably outside back Michael Sage brings up 50 starts, and doing so playing for the shield named for his great-uncle - FJ Tilyard.
Also factoring in are the WRFU’s tiebreaker rules. The first is quite simple, if two teams are tied for eighth at the conclusion of the round-robin then the team that progresses is the one that won the head-to-head match between the two; if this game was drawn then points difference will be used. If three or more teams are tied a different process is used – and has been revised since the dispute at the conclusion of last year’s Jubilee Cup round-robin; in sequence the tiebreakers are 1) most wins, 2) points difference, then 3) points scored.
These do not apply to the Swindale Shield itself; in the event that teams are tied on the same number of competition points the title will be shared.
Wellington, Johnsonville, Paremata-Plimmerton, and Avalon have all been mathematically eliminated from contention over the past two weeks. Each however can still affect the races at both ends of the top 8 over the next three weeks while tuning up for the 10 weeks of this year’s revised Hardham Cup.
The Axemen and Wolves meet at Fraser Park; Wellington are unchanged up front, while amongst Avalon’s side is veteran winger Liddy Ah Wong. Johnsonville have included Kane Thompson back in their starting side for their match with Wainuiomata, while Paremata-Plimmerton make three changes to the side that narrowly lost to Wellington last weekend.
There are two interclub trophies on the line tomorrow, both mentioned above. At the Hutt Rec HOBM and Oriental-Rongotai will contest the Bondy Memorial Cup, in honour of longtime Ories club man Don Bond who passed away just weeks before his beloved Magpies won the Jubilee Cup in 2011. It’s held by Ories after their 45-25 win last year.
Across the river at the Petone Rec the home side and Poneke will play for their FJ Tilyard Memorial Shield. Fred Tilyard played for four Poneke title winning teams, was a Wellington rep and an All Black in 1923. He was later a club administrator for 20 years and one of four brothers who all played at representative level; Harry and Brun were Wellington reps, while Jimmy also made the All Blacks. Poneke are the holders after a 35-17 win in last year’s Swindale Shield.
All seven matches kickoff at 2.45pm as normal.
The Harper Lock Shield is down to a two-horse race between Old Boys-University and Hutt Old Boys Marist (both 45) though Norths (39) remain longshots should the joint-leaders stumble. The critical clash yet to take place is the match between OBU and HOBM – which is next week at the Hutt Rec – and that looms as a potential title decider.
Before that though each has this weekend to get through and none have straightforward assignments. OBU have to get past the Upper Hutt Rams at Maidstone, while HOBM have Oriental-Rongotai at home with the Magpies coming off a resounding win over MSP. Its Norths that have to face MSP this week at Evans Bay and the defending champions will be looking to rebound from that loss.
The remaining four games have Wainuiomata at home against Johnsonville, Petone and Poneke clash at the Petone Rec, Paremata-Plimmerton host Tawa at Ngatitoa, and bottom-four pair Avalon and Wellington meet at Fraser Park.
All seven matches kickoff at the usual time of 1pm.
Fleurs Trophy winners Oriental-Rongotai make their first appearance of the Victoria Tavern Trophy when they host Wainuiomata at the Polo Ground. The hosts will be looking to continue their impressive form while the visitors while be looking for an improvement, and respectability, from their Fleurs Trophy meeting. Elsewhere first-week winners Old Boys-University and Norths will look to make it two-from-two when they meet at Nairnville Park. Marist St Pats have the bye this week.
In Division 2 Hutt Old Boys Marist play host to Tawa, while Poneke and Petone start the days theme between the two clubs, albeit at Kilbirnie rather than the Rec. Paremata-Plimmerton has the bye.
All four women's games kickoff at or near to 11.30am.
Petone’s unbeaten record has seen them get a jump on the field, and would take another step towards claiming the first-round trophy if they beat one-win Poneke at the Rec tomorrow. Ories – coming off Wednesday night’s win over MSP – can keep the pressure up when they take on Tawa at Lyndhurst, while OBU will also look to stay in touch when they head up the valley to face bottom-side Upper Hutt at Maidstone. The fourth game is in town where MSP and Norths meet on the St Pats College artificial.
All four matches kick off at 1pm.
In Division 2 Daniel Baldwin’s Wellington team will take the field, with their match against Avalon moved from Fraser Park to Hataitai.
The lightweights again start tonight, and once again the OBU Bunnies take to Alex Moore Park though this time the opposition is local side Johnsonville.
Tomorrows slate has Eastbourne welcoming Avalon to HW Shortt while HOBM have agreed to move their home game against Wellington to Hataitai, with both kicking off at 2.45pm. The fourth match was to be between Tawa and Wests at Redwood Park, however the Roosters have defaulted.
The feature clash in the third-tier is also at the Hutt Rec were unbeaten pair the HOBM Barbarians and Norths Usos meet, and it’s not out of the question that the winner of this will be the ones to lift the trophy in a fortnights time. However the Petone Brotherhood and OBU Wolfpack will also have hopes of doing that; Petone face Poneke at Kilbirnie while OBU host Stokes Valley at Nairnville. The fourth match has winless pair the Norths Reds and MSP looking to get a win on their account at Onepoto.
All four matches are 2.45pm kickoffs.
This weekend sees the last round of matches in the Tranzit Festival at Fraser Park and Westpac Stadium, and the final qualifying games for the local competitions. We took a look at all of that yesterday here on Club Rugby.