Above: Marist St Pat’s halfback Regan Sword gets a pass away in his side’s 22-21 win over Old Boys University last Saturday. Both MSP and OBU will be hoping to slay their opposition tomorrow and qualify for the final next weekend.
It’s a massive Saturday across the grounds as several grades hit the semi-finals, and all 24 teams involved will be looking for the result that puts them into next Saturday’s Finals Day at Petone; and it can be expected that no quarter will be asked for nor given.
Elsewhere there’s another round in the Hardham Cup and its associated Premier Reserve competition, the 85s, and First and Reserve Grades; and College rugby resumes after the school holiday hiatus.
Times and venues below are as per the alterations advised by WRFU and College Sport Wellington.
While the final four were known heading into last Saturday, the matchups weren’t. With that resolved focus switches now to the semi-finals, with the playoff field comprising the last three winners (Tawa, OBU, and HOBM) and the beaten finalist from the past two years (MSP).
Experienced pair Vincent Ringrose and Nick Hogan will referee the two semi-finals for the second successive year. Ringrose has the match at Porirua Park, while Hogan will be at Evans Bay. Both matches kick-off at the slightly earlier time of 2.30pm to allow for the possibility of extra time.
Over the airwaves, Radio Sport (1503AM) carries the MSP-HOBM match live and Te Upoko (1103AM) will have commentary of the OBU-Tawa semi-final, with around the grounds updates on both stations.
Having locked away the Andy Leslie Trophy for topping the Jubilee Cup round-robin for the summer alongside the Swindale Shield and Bill Brien Challenge Trophy, OBU will be after a clean sweep of the Premier trophies. Standing in their way at Jerry Collins Stadium tomorrow, however, is the last side to accomplish that feat in Tawa; who did it in 2013.
The Goats probably won’t read too much into last week’s defeat to MSP given they’d already wrapped up the right to host a semi-final and opted to rest several players. Most of them return tomorrow – veteran heads in Finnbarr Kerr-Newell, Ian Kennedy, and Te Wehi Wright, Daven Candy comes back on to the openside and Patrick Hausman returns in midfield after being a late withdrawal last Saturday. Adding to OBU’s motivation is the somewhat bizarre situation that not a single player was named in the representative wider training group released earlier this week.
Like last year Tawa left their run late to make the Jubilee Cup, and while they didn’t have to then fight back from losing their first three games, they did suffer a point’s deduction for a player eligibility breach that threatened to derail their season. They make just two changes to their starting side with Telea Seumanutafa restored to the pack for his blazer (30th) game and PJ Iosefo coming onto the wing, but are without veteran prop Tolu Fakamokioa who limped off late last weekend.
There are plenty of match-ups worth watching. The goalkicking of Dale Sabbagh and James So’oialo (who is no stranger to Porirua Park), the respective tight fives, the hard ball-running of No.8s Teariki Ben Nicholas and Peniasi Tokakece, behind the packs with veteran Tomasi Palu up against young star Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, and the two fullbacks in Jono Ihaka and Randall Bishop. The two benches aren’t short of firepower either.
The two sides have split their two meetings thus far this year. OBU won the Swindale encounter 45-28 back in late March while Tawa took the Jubilee Cup contest 16-15 courtesy of a last-minute James So’oialo dropped goal, with both those games having been played at Lyndhurst Park.
Marist St Pat’s (2) vs Hutt Old Boys Marist (3)
The second semi-final pits the two Marist clubs against each other, though on this occasion it’s the Hutt Valley parish heading into the city and to Evans Bay Park, with both their earlier meetings having been at the Hutt Rec. HOBM won the first of those 31-28 back on Anzac Day in their first home match of the season, while MSP won the corresponding Jubilee encounter 33-27.
Having tasted finals defeat the past two seasons, MSP will be more than keen to ensure they go all the way this time and, in particular not come up a week short. They will be buoyed at how the fought their way back to beat OBU last weekend, and should take that confidence into tomorrow. Experienced quartet Valentine Meachen, Isaac O’Connor, Ha’amea Ahio, and Andrew Wells are all back in their line-up, with utility back Ryan Setefano lining up on the wing this week.
HOBM did lift a trophy last year, but after a poor Swindale campaign those spoils came in the form of the Hardham Cup and will feel that they’re back where they belong this term; and like their opponents with have their tails up after winning against a fellow playoff team last Saturday. They are largely unchanged but get a significant boost with James O’Reilly being made available for them this weekend, while the other changes are in the backs where Tomasi Alosio pushes up into midfield, Matt Poole back at fullback and Francis Tanuvasa sliding over to the wing. 210-gamer Nick Risdon will again deputise at halfback for Sheridan Rangihuna whose suspension still has a week to run.
Like the OBU-Tawa clash there are match-ups all over the park to keep an eye on. Obviously the two hookers in Mechean and O’Reilly come to mind, but the battle of the loose trios between MSP’s O’Connor, James Tuia and Corey Lawrence (with Matt Peni on the bench) and HOBM’s Tasi Fidow, George Amosa, and Lise Soloa could be decisive. Glen Walters will match wits with the Prince of Evans Bay Fa’atonu Fili in running the ship for their sides, while how HOBM shackles Wells – who has scored a double in both games against the Eagles this year – will be of interest.
Perhaps the best indicator of which clubs currently have the best strength in depth is that three of the Jubilee contenders – OBU, Tawa, and MSP – also have their second sides in playoff action, with last weekend’s results not changing the mix or standings.
Like their Premiers Old Boys-University finished top and their reward is the right to decide the venue, a decision they’ve made that takes them to the #2 field at Porirua Park. They’ll face a familiar foe in Marist St Pat’s, with the two sides having met just last weekend at Evans Bay where MSP inflicted the only loss (24-19) the Goats suffered during the round-robin; while when the two met at Nairnville in the Harper Lock Shield it was OBU who took the spoils winning 41-15. The two sides will have a different voice with them tomorrow, with Marius Du Toit refereeing the match after having your correspondent for both their earlier contests. It kicks off at the earlier time of 12pm.
The second semi-final is at Lyndhurst Park, where Tawa face Petone. Both sides won their final round encounter with Tawa edging HOBM, while the Villagers cruised past Ories in the Polo mud. It’s actually the third time Petone have travelled to Lyndhurst this year with the two sides so far sharing the spoils; Petone won the Harper Lock Shield match 26-17 but Tawa won their most recent encounter by 43-24. Another experienced referee, Brad Hudson, will be in charge of this match. It is scheduled to kick off at 12.30pm
One of two unbeaten teams still standing in the club competitions, Oriental-Rongotai will be wanting to complete a perfect season and regain the Victoria Tavern Trophy that they last held in 2014 with two more wins. As top qualifiers they’ll host neighbours Marist St Pat’s at the Polo Ground where both teams will be familiar with each other, not just from this year – Ories having won their two matches 61-19 and 36-5 – but also from school and representative set ups.
The other match is at Jerry Collins Stadium where Norths take on Old Boys-University. Norths have lost just three games this season (all to Ories), and have beaten their opponents in all three meetings this year by 29-10, 36-10, and 38-7 scorelines and will line up as favourites tomorrow. OBU are in something of a rebuilding year having lost a number of key players, but will look to defy the odds and set the tone for their other three sides in semi-finals tomorrow.
Your correspondent has the whistle at the Polo Ground, with the promising Matt Thomas doing likewise at the JCS.
In Division 2 Petone went through the round unbeaten and warmed up by putting 90 points on Tawa, though they’ll have to face Hutt Old Boys Marist on enemy territory at the Hutt Rec in their semi-final with the Petone Rec being protected for next week. That said the Lady Villagers have beaten them in both their meetings this season (as HOBM started in Division 1). In the other match Poneke comes off the bye to host Paremata-Plimmerton at Kilbirnie Park, with Poneke having won two of their three matches this year, but the biggest winning margin in those games is only 10 points. Trevor Walker and Ian Laing are the respective referees.
All four Women’s semi-finals get underway at the usual 11.30am time.
After the dust settled from last week it was Oriental-Rongotai who emerged as the top qualifier in the Division 1 John E Kelly Cup after they beat Petone and Tawa surprisingly lost to HOBM. Ories’ will host Old Boys-University in one semi-final, though this will be at Te Whaea rather than Polo owing to ground restrictions, and Ories will be looking to overturn the one loss they suffered during the round-robin when OBU won 24-15 at the same venue, though they had several players on duty that day with their Premiers. OBU of course have a strong recent history of winning this title to try and uphold.
The second semi is on neutral turf at the Hutt Rec where Petone and Tawa meet (see above for the reason shy), perhaps a week earlier than some would have tipped a few weeks ago. They’ve each won at home this year with Petone 29-7 winning on en route to claiming the first round title and Tawa returning serve a three weeks ago by 31-27 at Redwood Park, and given their respective seasons both will be desperate to just have a chance at the title next week.
In the Division 2 Vic Calcinai Cup matches the Upper Hutt Rams finished top and they will host Wainuiomata at Trentham Memorial while Kapiti – who were beaten by Wainuiomata last Saturday – host Poneke in the other at the Paraparaumu Domain.
All four matches kickoff at 1pm. Referees for the four matches are; Jury Tenitenismeaton (Ories v OBU), Vinnie Wylie (Petone v Tawa), Ben van Berkel (Upper Hutt v Wainuiomata), and Ian Carson (Kapiti v Poneke).
Lastly in this section of the preview a reminder of the WRFU’s semi-final rules. In the event a match is tied at the end of normal time two periods of 10 minutes will be played (‘extra-time’). If still tied at the end of this the winner will be determined by:
Elsewhere there are the goings-on in the balance of the grades.
While there’s a lot of focus on the playoff games, there’s also a very pivotal match in the Hardham Cup as the two contenders – the Upper Hutt Rams and Johnsonville – lock horns for the second time in three weeks, this time at Maidstone Park. The Rams hold a three-point lead courtesy of their 49-17 win over Wellington while Johnsonville were held 15-all by Poneke, but the Hawks have the edge having won that last meeting. If Upper Hutt wins then they can wrap it up next weekend when they host Avalon, while a Johnsonville win would set up an intriguing couple of weeks. The Rams bring back Apa Heemi, Daniel Schrijvers, and Max Pearson with Hayden Schrijvers again at #10, while the Hawks sole change is Jacob Walmsley returning to the right wing. The kicking of Joyner Key and Tiwi Davies will be critical to their sides’ chances.
The other two matches will both be on artificial turfs. Avalon host Poneke at Fraser Park where the Wolves will look get the result that eluded them when Poneke ran down and blew past them at Kilbirnie, and with Hataitai Park still more suitable for ducks than rugby Wellington and Paremata-Plimmerton will take to the St Pat's College turf with the Axemen looking to win their last ‘home’ game of the year, and the visitors to claim a second on the year after getting off the mark last Saturday.
All three matches are 2.45pm kickoffs.
In the Premier Reserve Division 2 HD Morgan Cup the Upper Hutt Rams will look to at least keep their six-point lead intact when they host Johnsonville at Maoribank Park (at 12.45pm) while Poneke will need to stay in touch when they meet Avalon at Fraser Park. Pare-Plim will want to keep hold of third place when they take on Wellington at the St Pats turf. These latter two are still at 1pm.
The Under 85kg Division 1 Paul Potiki Shield matches this week the feature clash is at Ngati Toa Doman where now-joint leaders Avalon meet third-placed Tawa in a potential playoff preview at 1pm on neutral turf. The other joint-leader, Wellington, have already locked up five points with Johnsonville already defaulting their match. The other two games are both at 2.45pm, with HOBM now travelling to take on Eastbourne at the Hutt Rec, and Poneke and Kapiti meeting clash at Te Whaea.
In the First Grade Division 1 Johnsonville Centennium Cup leaders the Petone Brotherhood make the journey across the river to take on the HOBM Barbarians on the Hutt Rec, with Petone looking to add to the difficult start to the round for the first-round winners. Second and third clash at Kelburn when the OBU Wolfpack face the Norths Uso’s, while the third of the 2.45pm kickoffs have Norths Red against Poneke at Porirua’s Onepoto Park. The fourth match is at 1pm with the Stokes Valley Chiefs hosting MSP at Delaney Park.
With Silverstream having kept their grip on top spot with their 42-5 thrashing of St Pat’s Town in their annual Traditional on Wednesday, there are just four games on tomorrow.
Scots will look to keep pace ahead of their meeting with Silverstream next weekend when they head north to face Tawa, while Wellington College shouldn’t have too many issues moving ahead of Town into third when they host minnows Hutt Valley HS. Kapiti hosts Wairarapa in the battle between the two out-of-town schools, and Porirua can keep their outside hopes on making the playoffs alive if they can beat Rongotai, with all four games at 2.30pm.