Looking at some of the news in briefs, milestones, happenings, statistics, and observations from the weekend of rugby just gone and what’s coming up this week.
The All Blacks tour starts this coming Sunday (NZT), with the side playing Robbie Deans’ Barbarians selection at Twickenham. The Barbarians side will feature one Julian Savea, fresh from scoring a devastating try in Friday’s final against Bay of Plenty (photo above). He will play for the Barbarians alongside five Kiwis destined to join the All Blacks after the game - Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Dominic Bird, Atu Moli and Dillon Hunt. Former All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis is expected to captain the Barbarians.
The second leg of the American Ambassador’s sevens series was contested in bright sunshine on Saturday. The tournament was won on the day by Northern United (Men’s) and Marist St Pat’s (Women’s).
However, winners Norths have been docked 20 points for fielding an unregistered player.
The standings after two rounds are:
Men's (after two tournaments)
Upper Hutt Rams A 35
Wellington Black 29
Marist St Pat's A 27
Old Boys University A 20
Hutt Old Boys Marist 15
Oriental-Rongotai B 15
Northern United 13
Oriental-Rongotai A 11
Upper Hutt Rams B 7
Wellington Gold 6
Marist St Pat's B 2
Old Boys University B 2
Women's (after one tournament)
Marist St Pat's 20
Northern United 12
Hutt Old Boys Marist 8
Contrasting results for current and recent Wellington club players in the weekend’s Heartland Championship finals. On Saturday in Levin Tawa pair James So'oialo and Kalim Kelemete formed the five-eighths combination for Horowhenua-Kapiti but their side went down 14-30 to Wanganui in the Meads Cup final. There was better luck for former Wellington Axemen prop Adam Stewart (Williamson), as his Mid-Canterbury side overcame a third-minute red card to trounce West Coast 47-15 in the Lochore Cup decider.
Sunday also saw the conclusion to the Women's Farah Palmer Cup, with Canterbury scoring late to tip over defending champions Counties-Manukau 13-7. It’s hard to argue the mainlanders weren’t deserving Premiership winners having won twice in Pukekohe with Kendra Cocksedge steering the ship for the winners, while their opponents were clearly hobbled by the withdrawal of Cocksedge's Black Fern halves partner Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali. The Championship was won on Saturday by Bay of Plenty 7-5 over Otago, and as things stand the Volcanix will take the Wellington Pride's place in the Premiership
Saturday's College Sport Wellington U15 Sevens at Naenae College saw Scots College edge Silverstream in extra-time, but spearheading the two sides were two players who will undoubtedly cross paths many times in the next three years. Scots' Jonty Bird - younger brother of school and now Wellington Lions standout Alex Fidow - proved a handful for opposing sides while Silverstream was led by Riley Higgins, who showcased the same sort of skills that saw older brother Kienan make the NZ Schools Barbarians this year.
Despite the Lions’ win on Friday night, some members of the extended squad took it easy enough on the celebrations to turn out for their club in Saturday's Sevens, including Petone's Losi Filipo and Wellington's Alex Dalzell.
Injuries on and off the field continue to befall leading club players. Following Petone's Piri Paraone's leg break playing for the Development side against Auckland, HOBM winger Fereti Soloa suffered the same injury playing in last weekend's Village Kings tournament in Porirua, while Paremata-Plimmerton women's captain Savannah Peniata will miss most, if not all, of next season due to injuries suffered in a single-vehicle accident. We at Club Rugby wish them a speedy and full recovery.
Graham Atkin, who was Chairman of the WRFU between 1976-93, passed away last week aged 87. As a player (for University) and later as an administrator, Atkin was involved in the game for 50 years. He was a WRFU Life Member and also served on the NZRU Council from 1986 to 1994.
In winning their fifth NPC title (1978, 1981, 1986, 2000 and now 2017) the Lions have been elevated to the Premiership for 2018. Wellington scored 74 tries in 2017, which is a union record, surpassing the 62 scored in 2008 when they won the Ranfurly Shield. They also scored 515 points, three more than Premiership winners Canterbury.
Prop Alex Fidow finished with eight tries, the most by a forward in the competition and one ahead of Asafo Aumua with seven. Jackson Garden-Bachop scored the second most points with 142, behind Canterbury’s Richie Mo’unga with 157.
The fact that the All Blacks departure on their Northern Tour coincided with the finals weekend is poor work on the part of NZ Rugby. While its uncommon nowadays for players to jump straight from the NPC to the All Black squad without having played Super Rugby as Asafo Aumua has done, it still robs the pinnacle of the provincial game of wider squad All Blacks players who arguably should be turning out. As the undoubted star of this year’s competition, Aumua is the most obvious example, but Wellington surely would have utilised Jeff Toomaga-Allen and Vaea Fifita if they were available. Perhaps the time has come to make the NPC a community competition, played at suburban grounds such as the Hutt Rec or Porirua Park and with more fan involvement.
Two New Zealand Sevens Development teams were named late last weekend. There were no Wellington players selected in the Women’s team to compete at the Central Coast Sevens in Australia, while Poneke’s Levi Harmon is the sole local player in the Men’s side competing in San Jose this coming weekend. Club Rugby wishes Levi well.
The College Sport Wellington awards are this coming Sunday. Good luck to the boys and girls rugby finalists there, as well as the coaching and officiating finalists
The player nominees are: Girls: Julie Tusa (Aotea College), Susana Cortez Guerrero (Bishop Viard College), Lavinia Lea (Hutt Valley High), Jane-Edna Bryce (Newlands College), Tiara Nanai-Iafeta (Sacred Heart), Lyric Faleafaga (St Mary's College), Damaris Samani (St Mary's College), Leva Mulikiha'Amea (Taita College), Hope Sa'U (Wainuiomata High), Rosi Lomani (Wellington East). Boys: Ropati So'oalo (Aotea College), Darius Patau (Bishop Viard College), Rex Pearson (Heretaunga College), James Robertshawe (Hutt International), Mitchell Stringer (Hutt Valley High), Matthew Bain (Newlands College), Chester Palauni (Onslow College), Paora Conner-Phillips (Otaki College), James Gilland (Paraparaumu College), Jaylen Tuapola (Scots College), Kienan De La Rambelje (St Pat's, Silverstream), Joshua Southall (St Pat's, Silverstream), Xavier English (St Pat's, Town), Esera Andrews (Taita College), Kyle Preston (Tawa College), Kaleb Sinclair (Upper Hutt College), Tanara Haenga (Wainuiomata High), Naitoa Ah Kuoi (Wellington College)
The 15s season is officially over, but such is the nature of the modern game, there isn’t too long to wait for the new season to begin.
The Hurricanes squad for 2018 gets named on Wednesday. Most of the roster is filled so there will be few surprises, but there will still be some new names to look out for. Similarly, a handful of Wellington players can look forward to stints at other franchises when their squads are named.
In the ‘watch this space’ category, the Fiji Rugby Union has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese Rugby Football Association. As part of the MOU, the Chinese Union will be looking to their Fijian counterparts to help develop its sevens and fifteens programs, with exchanges for coaches, technical staff, teams and players. Fiji Rugby Chairman, Commander Francis Kean, said China was a "super economic power" globally and there is huge potential for rugby to grow in the world's most populous nation, especially in the seven-a-side game.
In European rugby, Hutt Old Boys Marist lock Jeremy Thrush came off the bench to help his Gloucester side to a 22-21 win over Bath in their west country derby overnight. Former Canterbury halfback Willi Heinz scored two tries in this same clash.
In local rugby coming up in November, the third and final leg of the American Ambassador’s series is this coming Saturday at Ngati Toa Domain, the Tawa Sevens tournament is at Duck Park on Saturday 11 November and the Piri Weepu Sevens is at William Jones Park on Saturday 25 November.
Moving into December, at least a couple of Wellington clubs will be heading up to Napier for the Napier Old Boys Marist Invitational Sevens on Saturday 3 December. That will be followed the next weekend by the Central Regional Sevens in Levin, with qualification for the Nationals in Rotorua at stake.