UPDATED with ground changes (see Draws & Results for the amended draw): So this is it, the full round of Premier rugby for the season. While it's somewhat anti-climactic in that the playoff teams in five of the grades that will conclude on finals day at the Petone Rec in two weeks’ time have been found (and the last will be known tonight); there’s still plenty of intrigue as not one of next weekend’s semi-finals match-ups has been sorted and no one wants to go in on the back of a loss. For the teams whose seasons come to an end there’s still much to prove, and they too will want to go out on a positive note.
Elsewhere the lower grades are back in action after last weekend’s weather interruption and looking to position themselves for finals footy in a few weeks.
Last Saturday results mean that the top-four for the semi-finals are already sorted; all that remains is to work out who-plays-who next weekend.
No matter what happens tomorrow, Old Boys-University will be playing at home having assured themselves of that much. They head down to Evans Bay to face Marist St Pat’s where there will be one piece of silverware at stake; the Andy Leslie Trophy for topping the round-robin phase of the Jubilee Cup. MSP are the current holders while OBU claimed it en route to the title in 2015 and will be looking to add this to the Swindale Shield and Bill Brien Challenge Trophy (won from Wainuiomata last weekend) they’ve already locked away for the summer.
Straddling that fine line between going after that home semi-final and risking losing players MSP have chosen to play it safe in some respects. There’s no Isaac O’Connor, Ha’amea Ahio or Andrew Wells in their side and Valentine Meachen is on the bench. Billy Proctor does return at centre after playing for the Hurricanes U18s last weekend, with Ryan Setefano moving to the back. Vincent Sakaria will captain the side.
The Goats have taken a similar approach, with the likes of Finnbarr Kerr-Newell, Ian Kennedy, and Te Wehi Wright not named, while Jono Ihaka, Will Mangos, and Paterson Carter get starts tomorrow. The contests between the respective No. 8s – MSP’s Matt Peni and OBU’s Teariki Ben Nicholas – and first-fives Fa’atonu Fili and Dale Sabbagh could be both decisive and well worth watching.
The other game of interest is out at the Hutt Rec where Hutt Old Boys Marist take on visitors Tawa in what is really a straight shootout; the winner could find themselves hosting a home semi-final depending on what happens at Evans Bay but will at worst be third qualifier, while the loser will be away to the top qualifier.
With that possibility of being at home next Saturday still alive both sides named strong sides. The Eagles are unchanged bar in midfield where Samoan 7s rep Tomasi Alosio and Francis Tanuvasa come in for Izzy Foai and Ope Peleseuma with Blake McGregor taking Tanuvasa’s place on the win; and after being Man of the Match last Saturday veteran Nick Risdon will continue to deputise for the suspended Sheridan Rangihuna.
Tawa have an unchanged backline while there are four in the pack, including a complete change of front-row with Sitiveni Paongo, Lotu Nuku, and Taniela Koroi starting, and over 270 games of Premier experience in the three players occupying the bench. James So’oialo starts again in midfield and might be looking to overhaul the pair of players (MSP’s Wells and OBU’s Sabbagh) ahead of him on the points-scoring list.
One thing that can’t happen is that these two match-ups will happen again next weekend.
So to recap:
The remaining two Jubilee Cup matches are effectively dead rubbers with all four sides finishing their season when full time is called tomorrow. Oriental-Rongotai – missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010 – host Petone at the Polo Ground, while Norths and Wainuiomata sign off for the year at Jerry Collins Stadium.
Ories are mostly unchanged, with Trent Renata getting more game time at first-five and Malo Tuitama back to face a couple of his old school adversaries at centre. After an aborted attempt last weekend Dan Kirkpatrick should be cleared to play for Petone tomorrow and he’ll be joined in the halves by NZ U20 halfback Carlos Price; and evergreen hooker Eugene Smith starts in his 199th outing for the Villagers.
As per their usual practice Norths have reshuffled their line-up, giving Esi Komaisavai as start at first-five and Liki Siliga starts on the wing in his 50th Premier game. Wainuiomata will look to atone for both last weekend’s result and their earlier trip to the JCS this season, and have made eight personnel or position changes.
The crunch game here is the one at Kilbirnie Park, where after having been notionally the away side last weekend, Poneke are near home at the Evans Bay Park Artificial to face Johnsonville. The Hawks edged past Avalon, but are now tied at the top. Poneke aren’t yet out of contention, but eight points behind do need the leaders to both lose twice over the remaining weeks and can only inflict one of those losses themselves. The big addition for the Streetkids is the return of Galu Taufale from international duty, while for the Hawks Kane Thompson will line up.
With Johnsonville failing to pick up a bonus point, the Upper Hutt Rams have drawn level after their big win over Pare-Plim. They’re back at Maidstone with Wellington making the journey out from the city. The home side are unchanged 1-15 and have the relative luxury of being able to bring Dan Schrijvers and Max Pearson off the bench, while tighthead prop Jason Bird takes over the captain's wings from Sam Gard'ner who is absent from their line-up tomorrow.
The final match is across the Haywards at Ngati Toa Domain where Paremata-Plimmerton host Avalon. The two sides have been fairly well matched at the back end of the competition, having drawn 17-all when they met here in the Swindale and Avalon edging their last meeting 21-15 at Fraser Park. Pare-Plim make a handful of changes including moving Blake Neve back to his favoured fullback position, while the Wolves side includes both their two big ball runners in Akuila Alatini and Ben Peni.
All seven Premier matches kick-off at 2.45pm.
The Ed Chaney division mirrors the Jubilee Cup. The top-four have already been found and it’s certain that OBU will be the home side for one of the semi-finals, and they can assure themselves of top spot if they beat MSP at Evans Bay. However if they lose they could still be caught by or even passed by Tawa if Tawa wins their match against already-eliminated HOBM at the Hutt Rec; if the two are tied on points then it would come down to points difference as the match between Tawa and OBU was declared a draw after being called-off early due to a serious injury; OBU’s points difference is +109 while Tawa’s is +64.
A win for Tawa would secure the other home semi-final, however if they lose they could be overtaken by either MSP or Petone who face bottom-side Ories at Te Whaea. If two of these sides tie the head-to-head rule takes effect: Tawa has it over Petone, Petone has it over MSP, and MSP has it over Tawa. If all three tie on 24 or 25 points then the WRFU’s new rule comes into effect using firstly wins and then points difference, which currently favours MSP.
The fourth match has no impact on the standings with Norths and Wainuiomata, like their Premiers, finishing up their seasons in their clash at Porirua Park.
In the HD Morgan Division the Upper Hutt Rams will be odds-on to retain their 100% record when they host winless Wellington in the early game at Maidstone 2. Poneke will be looking to keep pace when they take on Johnsonville in the curtainraiser at the Evans Bay Park Artificial ground and Paremata-Plimmerton will be looking to reverse the result from their last meeting with Avalon when they meet at Ngati Toa.
The top-two in both divisions are set. Oriental-Rongotai and Norths will host the two Victoria Tavern Trophy semi-finals, but who they’ll play won’t be known until after tomorrow’s final round. Old Boys-University are third but have to play Ories at Te Whaea, while MSP can overhaul them if they beat Wainuiomata on Petone #4 and the Lady Impalas lose; however given how Wainuiomata pushed Norths last Saturday an MSP win isn’t a foregone conclusion. Norths have the bye.
In Division 2 Petone and Poneke will have home semi-finals with the lady Villagers looking to close out in style against bottom-side Tawa at Lyndhurst while Poneke has the bye. The game of interest here is at Ngati Toa with Paremata-Plimmerton taking on HOBM with third place at stake.
All seven matches are scheduled for 11.30am kickoffs.
In the Division 1 John E Kelly Memorial the only surety here is that Petone, Tawa, and Oriental-Rongotai will be in the semi-finals next weekend, but none are yet assured of being at home for them. One of those will be sorted when Ories and Petone meet at Te Whaea while Tawa should be able to wrap the other up when they take on HOBM at the Hutt Rec, with both games at 1pm.
Before that though fourth place will be sorted out tonight when MSP go up against OBU Green at Te Whaea at 7.30pm, where MSP must get a bonus point win and hold the Goats without anything to make the playoffs.
The fourth match in the grade is the only dead-rubber, but plenty will be at stake when Norths and Paremata-Plimmerton meet at Porirua Park for local bragging rights to end their season, with that at Jerry Collins Stadium tonight also at 7.30pm
In the Division 2 Vic Calcinai Memorial the table is a bit messier owing to various deferments in recent weeks. What is now certain is that Kapiti, the Upper Hutt Rams, Poneke, and Wainuiomata are the four playoff sides after the latter beat Wellington in a catch-up game on Wednesday night.
Kapiti will secure a home semi-final if they beat Wainuiomata at William Jones while Poneke will move into second if they beat the winless Axemen at Kilbirnie Park, both at 1pm. The third match of the round is on tonight where Johnsonville and Avalon, both of who are now out of contention for the semi-finals, finish out their season at Alex Moore Park at 7.30pm. What is unclear is the status of the unplayed Upper Hutt vs Wellington match, which has an impact on the seeding for the playoffs.
It remains to be seen if the weather and consequential ground restrictions will curtail the lower grades for the second week running. If the games do go ahead the feature one is at the Hutt Rec #2 when the HOBM Barbarians look to atone for the only defeat they suffered in winning the first round against the Stokes Valley Chiefs.
Elsewhere, leaders the Petone Brotherhood are at home on the Rec against MSP, Poneke host the OBU Wolfpack at the Evans Bay Park Artificial at 5.00pm, and the two Norths sides meet at Porirua Park. All four matches are at 2.45pm
The lightweights are in the same situation as the other grades and dependent on the weather as to if they take the field this weekend or not. Leaders Wellington take to Te Whaea at 4.30pm to face Poneke, and Avalon head up the coast to face Kapiti in Paraparaumu. At 1.30pm Tawa hosts HOBM at Lyndhurst, with the only 2.45pm kickoff at HW Shortt when Eastbourne meets Johnsonville.
Just one game on in the college top flight tomorrow as Wellington College makes the trip across to Masterton to take on Wairarapa at 1pm to conclude round 7, with the visitors looking to consolidate their place in the top-four and the hosts after a repeat of their upset win from two years ago.
Round 8 gets underway next Wednesday when leaders Silverstream host St Pat’s Town in their annual match, with kickoff at 1.30pm at this stage. In another match next Wednesday (shifted from tomorrow), Porirua College hosts Aotea College in a Co-ed Cup and Beard Trophy fixture.