First round favourites Northern United face their biggest test of the season to date against Petone at Porirua Park this Saturday as part of this weekend's fifth round set of Swindale Shield matches.
In a month of rugby carnage, Norths have swept all before them thus far, including easy victories over an out of sorts Marist St. Pat's, Upper Hutt, the Wests Roosters and Wainuiomata. Norths have scored 251 points and 37 tries and conceded just 70 points and seven tries. Fullback Buxton Popoalii and centre Alapati Leuia have averaged four tries between them per game.
After this week Wellington club rugby fans should know whether or not to put the house on Norths defending their Swindale Shield title that they jointly won with Petone last year. Petone have impressed in their big wins over Johnsonville and Hutt Old Boys Marist after drawing their first two games and should provide Norths with a stern test up front and a tight defensive game. The Villagers are in the middle of a four week stretch of games against fellow big gun clubs and will be motivated to maintain their form ahead of their 125th anniversary weekend in round six, which sees them play Poneke at home.
The history of results between these two sides at Porirua Park heavily favours Norths. Of their last eight meetings there, Norths have won six, Petone one and there has been one draw. A 15-15 draw was the result of their corresponding match at Porirua in 2008, while Petone captain Eugene Smith can point to his man of the match effort in Petone's 26-0 win in the first round back in 2004 as his last win there. In their last 10 matches overall, Norths have won five and Petone four, with one draw. Last year Petone won 30-25 in the Swindale Shield and Norths prevailed 29-20 in the second round.
Poneke are the other unbeaten side after four rounds and will go to the top of the standings if Petone beats Norths and they defeat Wainuiomata on their Old Timers' Day at Kilbirnie Park. But they must overcome Wainuiomata, who themselves are priming for a top eight finish in the first round and a first tilt at the Jubilee Cup since their promotion in 2006.
With two wins from four, including a week three upset over Hutt Old Boys Marist, Wainuiomata are seventh after the first month and an upset win over Poneke in this clash would propel them into the leading group of contenders. Wainuiomata have yet to beat Poneke in three previous encounters at Premier level, going down 19-26 last year and 12-37 and 13-51 in 2007 and 2008.
These two teams will also be playing for the Hakaraia Trophy, which brings special significance to players and supporters of both teams, after the tragic death in a diving accident in January 2007 of Peter Hakaraia, the son of Paul who the trophy originally honoured. It is now played for in the memory of both Paul and son Peter. Paul was a lifelong associate of both the Poneke and Wainuiomata clubs.
In three more interclub trophy matches in the Swindale Shield this week, Marist St. Pat's and the Wests Roosters play for the Viv Haigh Memorial Cup, Johnsonville and Tawa meet for the Carman Cup and Old Boys-University and Hutt Old Boys Marist contest the Wood Cup.
The Marist St. Pat's and Wests Roosters match at Evans Bay Park promises to be a hard fought encounter and a loss for either of these sides could prove deleterious to their Jubilee Cup chances. Although they got their first win of the season last week against struggling Upper Hutt, MSP are far from safe inside the Jubilee Cup zone, while the Roosters will be desperate for their second victory to mount their case for a spot in the top eight after two seasons in the Hardham Cup wildenerness.
The trophy is named after Viv Haigh, who first played for the former Onslow club in 1929. After his promising career was cut short by injury he turned to administration and coaching. He died suddenly at the age of 46, having had a continuous association with the club for more than 30 years, the last 16 years as Treasurer. After Viv's untimely death, W.B. Griffiths presented a trophy in his memory for competition between the then Onslow and Marist clubs. Marist won the first match, played on 14 May 1960.?
The Carman Cup match between Tawa and Johnsonville at Helston Park is named after the great man himself, Arthur Carman. As well as pumping out regular sports books and statistics throughout his career, including the NZ Rugby Almanack, Carman was the first Patron of the Tawa RFC and was also a member of the Johnsonville club.
The trophy was first played for in 1952 and Tawa are the current holders, having beaten Johnsonville 40-24 at Senior 2 level last year. Tawa also won 30-18 at Helston Park the last time they met in the Swindale Shield in 2006.
OBU and HOBM will be looking to run rings around each at the Hutt Recreation Ground. Both have dangerous sets of backs that can cause real problems with a steady supply of ball. Both these teams are tracking similarly after the opening month of the season, with two wins each and fifth equal in the standings with 12 points. Information about the Wood Cup that they will be playing for is elusive.
In the remaining match of round five, Oriental-Rongotai will be gunning for their fourth straight win and a position of strength near the top of the table if they can overcome Upper Hutt at the Polo Ground. Ories will be confident of victory over Upper Hutt, with consecutive wins over OBU, MSP and Tawa under their belt in recent weeks. But the boys in burgundy, buoyed by the selection of two of their players in the New Zealand U20 World Cup squad - Kayne Hammington and fullback Jason Woodward - are due a win.
Ories won two high scoring matches against Upper Hutt last year, prevailing 34-32 in a Swindale Shield thriller and then 41-27 in the Jubilee Cup round.
The Ories Senior 1 team is also riding high and leads the Harper Lock Shield after four weeks. They play tenth placed Rimutaka at the Polo Ground at 12.30pm in the curtain raiser to their Premier's match against Upper Hutt.
Ories (on 17 points) are amongst five Harper Lock Shield contenders with three wins, with second placed Hutt Old Boys Marist (16) and third placed Old Boys-University (15) meeting at the Hutt Recreation Ground at 12.30pm in the clash of the Harper Lock Shield round.
Fourth placed Norths meet ninth placed Petone at Porirua Park at 12.30pm and fifth placed Avalon travel to Evans Bay Park to play sixth placed MSP. Avalon will also be trying to win the Joe Aspell Trophy off MSP.?
This trophy was awarded by the late Joe Aspell for competition between the Marist and Taita clubs when Joe was the licensee of the Taita Hotel. Joe played for Marist in the 40s.? He served the club in many ways, being a President and Life Member. He was the licensee of several hotels in the Wellington area, a Wellington City Councillor and a notable benefactor of many charitable causes.
Elsewhere, Poneke and Stokes Valley will be searching for their second wins of the year when they meet at Kilbirnie Park at 12.30pm, while winless Paremata-Plmmerton will be hoping to open their account against seventh placed Tawa at Ngatitoa Domain at 2.15pm.
In the Senior 2 National Mutual Cup, unbeaten team Old Boys-University and Upper Hutt play fourth placed Avalon at Fraser Park at 12.30pm and sixth placed Wellington at Hataitai Park at 2.15pm respectively.
In a tight competition, OBU are out in front with four wins, ahead of Upper Hutt and Northern United with three wins each. Upper Hutt defaulted their round three match to Poneke.
Norths play winless Petone at Porirua Park at 12.30pm.
In other matches, fifth placed Hutt Old Boys Marist play ninth placed Paremata-Plimmerton at the Hutt Recreation Ground at 2.15pm and eighth placed Wests Roosters play eleventh placed MSP at Martin Luckie Park at 2.15pm.
Five Wellington players names in New Zealand U20s
Marist St. Pat's prop Jeff Allen, Oriental-Rongotai outside back Julian Savea, Poneke midfielder Charlie Ngatai and Upper Hutt duo, fullback Jason Woodward and halfback Kayne Hammington, have all been named in the 24-strong national U20 squad for the IRB U20 World Cup in Argentina in June.
Of the five new U20 players, three have previously worn national colours at age grade and New Zealand Sevens level and three were Vodafone Wellington Lions squad members in 2009.
Ngatai and Woodward both debuted for the Wellington Lions in last July's representative season opening Ranfurly Shield defence against Wairarapa Bush in Masterton, Woodward scoring two tries and Ngatai one in the record 90-19 win.
Ngatai played in the Vodafone Wellington Lions' two initial Ranfurly Shield defences against Wairarapa-Bush and Wanganui at second five-eighth, before making his Air New Zealand Cup debut in round two against Hawke's Bay nine days shy of his 19th birthday. He went on to play four competition round-robin matches in his maiden season.?
Julian Savea has already represented New Zealand at schoolboy level and for the New Zealand Sevens team in several IRB Sevens World Cup tournaments last year.
At home at either centre or on the wing, the former Rongotai College first XV star was a member of the Hurricanes Academy while still at school in 2008 and made that year's New Zealand Secondary Schools side along with Ngatai, from Gisborne Boys' High School, and Wellington College prop Jeff Allen.
Savea made the New Zealand Sevens side last year, first playing in the opening two 2008/09 IRB tournaments in Dubai and George. In December he was a Steinlager Award nominee for the Richard Crawshaw Memorial Sevens Player of the Year award along with winner Zar Lawrence (Bay of Plenty) and Carla Hohepa (Otago).
In fifteen's rugby in 2009, Savea was selected in the Wellington Lions pre-season training squad and later made several eye-catching appearances for the Wellington Colts.
The selection of up and coming prop Jeff Allen and former St. Pat's Silverstream halfback Kayne Hammington are both the result of hard work and dedication on behalf of both players, after neither made the initial 45-player U20 squad in November last year. Both impressed in the first trial game in March and again in the second trial last weekend.
The IRB U20 World Cup between 5 and 21 June is being played at the three venues in Santa Fe, Rosario and Parana. New Zealand is in Pool A with Wales, Samoa and Fiji.