Midway through the first round, the 2012 Swindale Shield is fast unraveling as one of the closest in recent years.
Results on Saturday proved again that teams are delivering on the field when they most need to, resulting in five teams being within striking distance of the lead and further down the table the race to finish inside the top eight heating up considerably.
Features of the sixth round set of matches, played in bright autumnal sunshine, were decisive wins for Northern United over Hutt Old Boys Marist and Marist St Pat's over Oriental-Rongotai, a much-needed win for Poneke over the Wests Roosters and a draw at Williams Jones Park between home side Wainuiomata and Old Boys-University.
Northern United marred Hutt Old Boys Marist's Old Timers' Day and ended their unbeaten run with an emphatic 35-13 win over the home side at the Hutt Recreation Ground. After a close first half that saw HOBM ahead by a converted try after the first 20 minutes, Norths erupted after halftime and scored four unanswered second half tries. Centre Perry Hayman scored two tries and kicked beautifully for Norths in scoring 20 points.
MSP celebrated their Past Players and Supporters' Day with a four tries to two win over Oriental-Rongotai in their eastern suburbs derby. MSP were clinical and hungry against an error-riddden Ories and their 32-10 win could have been greater if not for both Ories' tries coming totally against the run of play and themselves missing out on further chances near the whitewash. Industrious No. 8 Tevita Ah Wong scored two tries.
Across the road at Kilbirnie Park, Poneke gained a much needed victory over the Wests Roosters who were coming off a win over Norths the week before. In another tight game, Poneke pulled clear in the second half to win 28-16. Trailing by a point with 15 minutes to go, Poneke centre Jerome Betham crossed for the match winner off a blistering break by right wing James Solomon. Starting first five-eighth Chris Thomson and replacement and veteran Sam Rasch also kicked seven penalties between them in the Cederwall Memorial Trophy win.
Old Boys-University first five-eighth Seminar Manu kicked five penalties in his side's 15-15 draw with Wainuiomata. In the tightest match of the round, these teams were locked up at 3-3 at halftime and Manu's boot took them into a lead soon after halftime. But Wainuiomata left wing Jason Love and replacement lock Glen Angus scored unconverted tries for the green and blacks in a tight finish and to ensure the retention of the Bill Brien Challenge Cup for at least another fortnight when they put it on the line again.
Upper Hutt were convincing winners on the field, and also the biggest winners of the day off it - ?with their 34-20 bonus point over Tawa seeing them climb above Ories and Wainuiomata on the points table and join HOBM at the top on 23 points. Playing into the Maidstone Park breeze, Upper Hutt scored three tries and led 20-8 at the break before pulling clear with two converted tries after halftime. Five different try scorers got on the scoresheet for Upper Hutt as they successfully defended the Mexted Motors Cup.
Petone grabbed their second consecutive win, beating an injury hit Rimutaka 82-3 at Maoribank Park. Petone banked the five competition points on offer well before halftime and ran away with it in the second spell. First five-eighth Dan Kirkpatrick, returning from a groin injury, was the individual benefactor scoring two tries and 29 points all up. The Villagers scored 10 tries in all and climbed to eighth equal with Poneke on the points table.
In games in the Senior 1 Harper Lock Shield, Wainuiomata and MSP earned contrasting wins to maintain their leading positions at the top of the table. MSP comfortably beat Ories 55-19, while Wainuiomata edged out OBU 24-18 to climb to outright second and push OBU down a spot to third.
In a continuation of what's shaping as a tightly contested competition as the Swindale Shield, the other four games were all tight.
HOBM and Norths fought out a 32-32 draw, Avalon edged out Tawa 25-17, Petone pipped Paremata-Plimmerton 29-22 and Johnsonville grabbed an 18-17 win over Poneke. In a roller coaster season of heartbreak and joy already for their supporters, Johnsonville's points for and points against records are the same at 135 points.
In the National Mutual Cup, all eyes were on the top of the table clash at Maidstone Park between unbeaten Upper Hutt and Wellington Axemen. In the end it was Wellington who proved too strong prevailing 23 and taking a standalone four-point lead at the top of the table over Upper Hutt at the halfway mark.
Poneke maintained their third placed position with a 23-5 over the Wests Roosters, Ories reversed their two losses in higher grades to MSP winning 37-18, Avalon edged OBU 27-24 and Norths beat HOBM 44-12. In the third draw of the afternoon in the top three grades, Stokes Valley and Petone drew 13-13 on Stokes Valley's Old Timers' Day.
In one Fleurs Trophy Women's Premier match to hand, Northern United maintained their perfect record, beating Wainuiomata by default and collecting the maximum five points on offer.
On the opening day of college secondary school rugby in Wellington, defending Premier champions outgunned St. Pat's Silverstream 29-3 in a replay of last year's final and St Pat's Town beat Rongotai College in the other Williment Trophy pre-season fixture.
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At Evans Bay Park, it was halfback Nick Wanden's 62nd minute try that clinched MSP's win over a disappointing defending Jubilee Cup champions Ories, who had knocked on the first kick-off of the match and never really recovered.
Wanden collected an inside pass from replacement forward Donald Brighouse after a strong run off the back from a scrum by double try-scorer Tevita Ah Wong and flew in to score to extend MSP's then lead to 25-10.
Replacement hooker Ano Kapeli crossed for their bonus point try towards the end to seal an excellent win for their Old Timers' Day supporters in front of an enthusiastic crowd.
Earlier, MSP had made it hard on themselves after making all the early running.
Missed opportunities and mistakes at crucial times by MSP had Ories trailing by just 14-10 early in the second half after new New Zealand U20 fullback Matt Proctor raced in to score a 65-metre try from a turnover in general play.
Playing a positive brand of running rugby, MSP had been all over Ories from the get-go, pouring on to attack from the opening whistle and went desperately close to scoring through left wing Paul Tuia .
After much pressure it was former Johnsonville No. 8 Ah Wong who crossed for the first of his two tries, first five-eighth Fa'atonu Fili converted and it was 7-0 after 15 minutes.
MSP remained in the ascendancy, but it was Ories that scored next - totally against the run of play. Looking into the sun and seeing Ories blindside Joe Maiava bearing down on him, wing Tuia spilt a high kick and Maiava collected the spoils and charged through to score to close the deficit to 7-5.
Five minutes before halftime MSP launched an expansive attack from a quickly thrown lineout. Lock Lua Lokatui carried play on with a good run from a ruck, creating space for Fili to stretch Ories defence up a wide shortside, offload to wing Tuia who in turn found Ah Wong who crossed for this second try. Fili's conversion made it 14-5.
Ories brought on Hurricanes flanker Jack Lam in the second half, but they continued to struggle to maintain possession for long enough to gain any real momentum despite closing to within four points early in the half.
MSP continued to swarm on to any loose ball and they also got good value from their substitutions bench in the likes of Brighouse, Charlie Graham and try scorer Kapeli.
The match ended with Ories down to 14 men and MSP fullback Wells lining up an unsuccessful penalty. Ories, who lose their two New Zealand U20 reps Proctor and Ambrose Curtis for the next part of the season, need to fire up quickly in what's a cut throat Swindale Shield this year.