In 2015, Zeke Sopoaga was told he would be starting the Jubilee Cup final for Old Boys University. Stu Simonsen explains why he usurped Sopoaga into the match day XV.
“I got a phone call from coach Paddy Gough who conceded he had a change of heart. He wanted me to start because of my greater experience,” Simonsen reflects.
The hooker only played 20 minutes and was supposed to return to the field, but laughs “things turned pear-shaped.”
OBU, after leading 25-6 against Marist St Pat’s, eventually held on to win 30-27.
“It was awesome to be a part of a Jubilee Cup win. I made my debut in 2005 off the bench against Wainuiomata and in that season’s Swindale Shield we didn’t even win a game.” Simonsen recalls.
Stability in personnel has been a massive change at OBU and the reason why the club has become so strong in recent seasons according to Simonson who this weekend plays his 100th Premier game for the Billygoats against Oriental Rongotai.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve had five guys, Tomasi Palu Jonathan Fuimaono, Joe Hill, Ian Kennedy and Thomas Fleming, bring up 100 games for the club. If you have that solid base of experience you can build a strong team around it,” he believes.
Simonsen has been the foundation of a strong OBU forward pack and has observed many changes in front row play during his career which actually started with half a dozen games for the Wellington Axemen in 2003 and 2004.
“In many ways, the entire tight five have turned into flankers with the format most teams play requiring the front rowers to pass and run at some point. At OBU we have been typically smaller than our opposition like Ories and Tawa so we have placed a greater emphasis on speed and skill which has been beneficial too,” Simonsen explains.
Scrums have become more of an endurance test rather than a battle of brute strength.
“When the call sequence was changed to ‘crouch, bind, set’ it essentially removed the hit and reduced the contest. In the past if you won the initial hit you could really dominate the scrum. Nowadays it’s about maintaining length and holding shape. The ball is typically in the scrum for longer so you have to be stronger,” Simonsen reveals.
Simonsen says Norths in their “heydey” with the likes of Jacob Ellison and John Schwalger presented the toughest challenge because they were “the benchmark.”
In addition to the Jubilee Cup final of 2015, Simonsen says his favourite games have been representing the New Zealand Universities against Japan in 2013 and winning the 2009 Hardham Cup final on the Westpac Stadium against Wests 42-8. It was Simonsen’s first appearance at the Stadium and was noteworthy for Sam Hall’s 22 points and All Black Conard Smith’s cameo off the bench. He has also represented the Wellington Centurions team.
In 2011 and 2012 Simonsen played in Sheffield and for Currie in Scotland appearing alongside Scottish internationals Scottish Andrew Turnbull and Matt Scott.
Simonsen believes this year’s Jubilee Cup is tougher than 2015 with no game a guaranteed win and injuries playing a bigger part than usual.
Simonsen has been an electrician since he left Wellington College in 2002. He has been married to early childhood teacher Hayley for five years and has a three-year-old son named Blake with another child due in November.
Old Boys University hosts Oriental Rongotai at Nairnville Park at 2:45pm this Saturday in Round 5 of the Jubilee Cup.