The festive season is a time for family and friends, for relaxing and making merry. But soon enough, the attention will turn to the 2019 rugby season. See below for this year’s 12 rugby questions of Christmas heading into another bumper year of local, domestic and international rugby.
With nearly a dozen players in their squad from last year with over 100 Premier games, Wainuiomata aren’t short of experience, but is this preventing youngsters (if they exist) from being promoted. Last season Wainuiomata dropped down to the Hardham Cup for the first time since 2010. Do they have the depth to compete or is their best ever run, three Jubilee Cup semi-finals in seven years, over?
For the past two seasons Bingham has assisted Tim Mannix with the St Patrick’s College, Silverstream First XV who have enjoyed unprecedented success. Silverstream have won 22 Premiership games in a row, capturing the title in 2017 and 2018 as well as sweeping their traditional games in each season for the first time in 65 years. By contrast the Upper Hutt Rams have spent those seasons mired in the Hardham Cup. Many of Silverstream’s best like NZ Schools reps Iona Apineru and Josh Southall are headed to the Rams and with Bingham familiar with their talent could things be on the up at the head of the valley?
At 21 matches from start of finish, Wellington’s club season was the longest in the country. With the shortening of the Swindale Shield by three rounds and the elimination of any midweek games it should address some player welfare concerns, especially in an environment where players have lives and jobs outside of the game. What will be of interest is the added complication of all teams not playing each other, and the distinct possibility that a team (or two) miss the Jubilee Cup having played a ‘harder’ schedule than one that does make it.
The Wellington College First XV had their worst ever season in 2018, losing to Silverstream, Scots and Nelson College by record scores and suffering many other heavy defeats, while their U15 side finished at the tail of their annual 16-team tournament. Wellington are presently the NZSS swimming, cricket and futsal champions with a staggering 576 boys playing the latter code. Rugby numbers are shrinking and with a rapidly changing and multicultural roll are Wellington’s struggles set to continue?
OBU have used 108 players in the last two seasons, but still managed to win repeat Jubilee Cup finals. With no maintenance to pay on clubrooms and University scholarships to lure leading talent nationwide, the Billy Goats appear to be in a stronger position than most. The OBU Colts have won the John E Kelly Cup five times in the last seven seasons suggesting there is ample depth to support veterans like Jonathan Fuimaono and Tomasi Palu who has moved seamlessly from a playing role to a coaching one. See #7 below for a possible answer.
While the women’s game continues to grow, and is almost entirely responsible for player numbers overall continuing to rise, the local game here is at a crossroads with the need to cater for both the elite player and the social one. Whereas the men’s game as several grades and divisions the women’s doesn’t (albeit that’s a simple numbers issue) and that leads to a great difference in the ability of the teams as witnessed by the margins of some of last year’s results. Is the solution a Sunday social 10’s grade, or something similar? But it certainly bears some thinking about.
Norths fell narrowly short of winning all three Premier trophies in 2018. Their dynamic style of play yielded 106 tries in 21 games. What would the arrival of Wellington Lions wing and midfielder Losi Filipo bring to Porirua? His experience, pace and power could add another exciting dimension to already explosive Norths team. With players such as Filipo at centre and the likes of Junior Time Taotua and Liki Siliga on the wings they won’t be lacking for firepower out wide at Porirua Park.
Fa'atonu Fili was summoned out of Premier retirement to play at first-five for MSP during the Jubilee Cup. Fili’s timeless desire is to be admired, but MSP have been attempting to find a successor to Fili as the King of Evans Bay Park for the best part of five years without success. James Proctor has appeared in the pivot jersey and has been a reliable option, but there have been other pretenders too. A player of Fili’s quality and longevity is rare, but if MSP are to seriously challenge for the Jubilee Cup in 2019 they surely need a younger, consistent first-five.
Defaults, poor quality at times and major weather interruptions – it all happened this sevens season. Does the three-round American Ambassador’s tournament need scaling back? A return to a warm-up tournament and then one tournament to decide the American Ambassador’s and Eleanor Roosevelt Trophies, possibly over two days in one weekend, could be the way to go. Similarly, The NZRU brought forward this year’s National Sevens from January to December, but the build-up all seemed rushed and general interest and media coverage of the recent event at its new home in Tauranga was negligible.
Richie Mo'unga is the first player in three years to launch a serious tilt at usurping Beauden Barrett as the All Blacks first-five, and Barrett has regularly switched to fullback during internationals for the past three years. With the Rugby World Cup beckoning will the pressure come on the Hurricanes for Barrett to appear more frequently in that position? Remember in 2011 the All Blacks required four first-five’s to win the William Webb Ellis Trophy.
Poneke supporters have always been patient. Intervals of two decades or more between Jubilee Cup wins is the pattern for the Kilbirnie Park club, last winning it in 2003 and before that outright in 1932, 1951, 1975 and 1996. Last year they had their best season in several years, finishing 5th in both the Swindale Shield and Jubilee Cup where they won three of their six matches, despite the well-publicised coaching upheaval early on. Boasting modern new clubrooms, the only thing missing is a full trophy cabinet. Can they add to it in 2019? Much will depend on their leading players Greg Foe, Galu Taufale and Pakai Turia, but they will need others to step up around them to win more of the big games.
The second half of 2019 will be dominated by one event: The Rugby World Cup in Japan. The two-time defending champions All Blacks will be favourites but the gap between the best and the rest is closing fast. Of the Wellington players, we ask who would be in the mix for the 23 in a potential RWC final squad? Right now, Ardie Savea would be a lock-in. If fit, Dane Coles too. Probably TJ Perenara. Local fans will be hoping for Vaea Fifita’s and Asafo Aumua’s inclusion, the latter looking for a stellar season after his injury struggles of 2018. Then there is Ma’a Nonu – what chance of Nonu lining up for the All Blacks later this year?