Above: Will the Upper Hutt Rams skip away to retain the American Ambassador's Sevens trophy, to be presented at next weekend's series decider, or will others take them down? Find out at Mary Crowther Park from 9.00am tomorrow.
Two big events highlight the weekend’s rugby.
The first of those is tonight at Westpac Stadium, as the Wellington Lions host Bay of Plenty in the Men’s NPC Championship decider and with it promotion to the Premiership for 2018.
For Wellington, it’s yet another chance to return to the top flight having missed out in each of the past two years following that awful 2014 that saw them demoted and nothing short of victory will suffice in the minds of home fans.
Chris Gibbes has made just two personnel changes from the side that ultimately ran away from Northland last Friday. One of those is enforced with Asafo Aumua now unavailable owing to his All Blacks selection and the timing of the national squads’ departure (surely something that has to be rectified in future). While he’ll be missed, his replacement Leni Apisai offers a different dynamic and experience. The only other change sees Will Mangos return to the starting XV in place of Galu Taufale who drops to the bench with the reshuffle moving James Blackwell onto the side of the scrum and skipper Brad Shields back to No.8.
There are a trio of familiar faces in the Steamers side, with Luke Campbell (formerly of OBU) and Chase Tiatia (HOBM) starting at halfback and fullback respectively with another Eagle in James O’Reilly on the bench.
The two sides met in the regular season back in week three with Wellington prevailing 31-10 on a Thursday night in Rotorua. Of the side named for tomorrow the try scorers that night were Ben Lam and Wes Goosen, along with Malo Tuitama (who is on the bench), Isaia Walker-Leawere, and Aumua while Jackson Garden-Bachop kicked three conversions.
1. Tolu Fahamokioa (Tawa) 2. Leni Apisai (Norths) 3. Alex Fidow (Oriental-Rongotai) 4. Sam Lousi (Marist St Pats) 5. Will Mangos (Old Boys-University) 6. James Blackwell (Petone) 7. Mateaki Kafatolu (Petone) 8. Brad Shields (Petone) 9. Sheridan Rangihuna (Hutt Old Boys Marist) 10. Jackson Garden-Bachop (Norths) 11. Ben Lam (Tawa) 12. Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Wainuiomata) 13. Wes Goosen (Old Boys-University) 14. Julian Savea (Oriental-Rongotai) 15. Trent Renata (Oriental-Rongotai)
Reserves: 16. Sitiveni Paongo (Tawa) 17. Vince Sakaria (Marist St Pats) 18. Joe Apikatoa (Hutt Old Boys Marist) 19. Galu Taufale (Poneke) 20. Du’plessis Kirifi (loan) 21. Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (Tawa) 22. Regan Verney (Old Boys-University) 23. Malo Tuitama (Oriental-Rongotai)
Tomorrow the focus switches to the short form of the game with the second round of the American Ambassador’s Trophy series, this time at Wainuiomata’s Mary Crowther Park.
Seventeen men’s teams will front with 16 of them looking to topple the Upper Hutt Rams from their pedestal. The Rams will front a second team this time out along with Oriental-Rongotai while the Avalon Wolves make their first appearance and the second teams from MSP and OBU drop out. A further six teams make up the Women’s section where the XV’s champion Lady Magpies are the likely favourites.
Pool play gets underway at 9am with the playoffs getting underway around 3pm. The Women’s final is timed for 3.30pm with the Men’s Cup final scheduled for two hours later
Pool A: Upper Hutt Rams A, Oriental-Rongotai A, Petone, Avalon
Pool B: Marist St Pats, Wellington Black, Johnsonville, Wainuiomata
Pool C: Tawa, Norths, Wellington Gold, Upper Hutt Rams B
Pool D: Hutt Old Boys Marist, Old Boys-University, Paremata-Plimmerton, Poneke, Oriental-Rongotai B
Pool A: Oriental-Rongotai, Marist St Pats, Avalon
Pool B: Norths, Hutt Old Boys Marist, Petone
Elsewhere at the college level, there are two tournaments on tomorrow. Memorial Park in Masterton plays host to the Hurricanes Schools Sevens with 12 Boys and 5 girls teams entered.
Making the journey over the Rimutakas are three boys teams; Wellington Condor’s runners-up Rongotai College – looking for more game time ahead of their debut at the Nationals – St Bernard’s, and a Barbarians team made of players from St Pat’s Town, Silverstream, and Rongotai. The field is headed by the Hastings Boys’ High School juggernaut who are both defending champions and red-hot favourites, while other schools entered are Napier Boys, Lindisfarne, Feilding High, Hato Paora, Tu Toa, Waiopehu, and Wairarapa College, plus a Wairarapa Barbarians side as well.
No Wellington school is contesting the Girls section, which comprises four teams in Manawatu schools Manukura and St Peter’s, Masterton’s Makoura College, and the composite Nga Wahine Toa side.
Finally, after Monday’s senior event, the U15s take to Naenae College for their sevens championship. Six teams will line up (down from 12 last year) starting with defending champions St Pats Silverstream, joined by Scots College, Wellington College, Taita, Naenae, and Newlands. Play there gets underway at 9.30am with the final timed for just after 1pm.