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First XV Premiership preview – Silverstream chasing three-peat and some players to watch

Supporters at last year’s Premiership final that saw St Pat’s Silverstream beat St Pat’s Town 29-20.

Draws & Results at or by going HERE

After three weeks of qualifying and the Tranzit Festival, the College Sport Wellington First XV Premiership gets underway this weekend and culminating in the final at Porirua Park on August 18.

The Silverstream and Scots scrums pack down in a recent pre-season match. The Petone scout on the phone likes what he sees.

St Patrick’s Silverstream head into the season as the back-to-back defending champions after their triumph over Town last year, but it’s a new look team with many from those sides having moved on. Their early form has been reasonable with narrow Tranzit losses to Hastings and Napier bracketing a one-point win over Gisborne on their home turf. Expect them to play to their well-established pattern and let the forwards do the heavy work to free up their backline.

As with last year, Scots College loom as the main challengers to the crown, and probably head into the season as the favourites. Bitterly disappointed to fall in the last-minute in the semi-finals to St Pats Town last year, there’s no shortage of motivation for this season. Their backline is once again their strength and will be difficult to contain, but their forwards will be better than most will expect. Scots have had perhaps more gametime than anyone else with their Presbyterian Quad (beat St Andrew’s, lost to St Kentigern’s) and Tranzit Quad – where they beat Palmerston North and Gisborne either side of a one-point loss to Hastings – already under their belts.

St Pat’s Town saved perhaps their best performances until last a year ago, tipping over Scots to make the final, where they pushed Silverstream harder than most expected. Its been a mixed early-season bag for them having already lost to St Bedes and recorded losses to Palmerston North and Hastings after an opening draw with Napier in the Tranzit series; leaving their only win that over St John’s Hastings. A relative lack of size might be an issue against Scots and Stream but should have too much quality to miss out on the playoffs.

A big season ahead for Wellington College – can they improve on last year?

On the other side of the Mt Victoria tunnel Wellington College will be out to arrest the slow decline of recent years, albeit they haven’t yet finished lower than fourth. It was another barren campaign in the Tranzit recording three losses, and that might not augur well for the year ahead. Expect long-serving coach Lincoln Rawles to get the most out of his charges, though that might be a little more forward-orientated than usual.

As with the past two years the remaining six sides worked through the qualifying series. Wairarapa College and Rongotai College returned by the direct route after winning their first two games and had last weekend off. The Masterton school beat Tawa and Kapiti in their matches and have a record of being a difficult proposition at home for visitors over the Remutaka’s, and look talented enough on paper to be a credible chance. Rongotai racked up a large win over Porirua first up before being made to work hard by Aotea and expect them to play a relatively free-wheeling game.

Also returning are Kapiti College, St Bernard’s College, and Hutt International, all via last weekend’s matches. Kapiti College edged past Upper Hutt 36-33, having beating HIBS first up before losing to Wairarapa in the second week.

Both St Bernard’s and HIBS had to take the long way, losing their first-up games to Aotea and Kapiti respectively. St Bernard’s then beat Wainuiomata (36-17) and Porirua (29-7) to claim their place, while HIBS recorded a large win over Mana (69-5) before a close one over Tawa (25-22). All three will be out to improve on last year’s finishing positions but could find that a big ask as well.

The only newcomer to this year’s field is Aotea College, back in the top-flight for the first time since 2012 and will fly the flag for the Porirua area and are the only Wellington-based co-ed side. They played their way in with a win over Taita after beating St Bernard’s first up followed by a loss to Rongotai. Their fortunes will hinge on a handful of players, and if they fire they could spring a surprise or two.

Saturday’s first round starts with Silverstream hosting Wairarapa at 1pm. That’s followed at 2.30pm by the remaining four games; Scots and Rongotai have their eastern suburbs derby at Scots, Wellington College host HIBS, Aotea and St Bernard’s meet for the second time in three weeks though this time in Porirua, and St Pat’s Town head up the coast to face Kapiti. The first of the years Traditional fixtures follows on Tuesday with Town and Wellington College clashing at Evans Bay.

This years Premier 2 competition is also made up of ten teams, with plenty of turnover from last years group. The Silverstream 2nd XV are the three-time defending grade champions but face plenty of competition if they are to repeat yet again. Upper Hutt, Taita, Hutt Valley HS, Tawa, and the St Pats Town 2nd XV are the other sides returning, Porirua drops down from the Premiership, and Wainuiomata, Mana, and the Rongotai 2nd XV all step up from playing in Premier 3 last year. Their opening round of matches start with the Stream and Town 2nds meeting at 11.30am at Stream, Rongotai 2nds host HVHS at 1pm, and then followed at 2.30 with Taita and Wainuiomata, Porirua up against Upper Hutt, and Tawa and Mana meet in a match that also forms their Coed Cup knockout encounter and Mana’s Beard Trophy challenge.

Premiership players to watch

One player to watch this season from each team below.

Ropati So’oalo (Aotea College) – The Wellington Rugby Academy member was selected for the New Zealand Barbarians last year from Premier 2, despite being only Year 12. A winger and centre with size and searing pace, So’oalo scored more tries than any player in the capital in 2018 and will need to emulate that success if Aotea are to compete strongly in the Premiership. Will captain the team but needs to avoid the injuries that have plagued him the past two years.

Gerry Green (HIBS) – Centre Green will be pivotal to HIBS’s prospects. Solidly built, Green scored a cracking try in their traditional against Rathkeale College and also boasts a strong left boot.

Louis Northcott (Kapiti College) – A well-rounded footballer whose talent belies his years. Northcott is always exciting to watch.  This intelligent fullback has great timing, can ghost through backlines, is technically and positionally correct, and being a New Zealand U18 Decathlon Gold Medallist Northcott offers genuine athleticism.

Reon Paul (Rongotai College) – Also captaining from the midfield, Paul will line up at second-five for his third year with the First XV. A strong defender with a range of skills and smarts on attack, Paul will be hoping to avoid the pesky injures which held him back in 2018.

Sage Shaw-Tait (Scots College) – The Hutt Valley Junior Sportsperson of the Year flourishes in baseball and softball as well as rugby where he resides in the midfield. Shaw-Tait was exceptional for the Under-18 Centurions in September last year and part of their sevens setup where he has also flourished.

Jono Little (St Bernard’s) – A busy, abrasive and skillful player, Little spent most of last season in the midfield, but has switched to No.8 in 2019 where he’ll look to flourish off the back of the scrum and in contact.

Tom Mannix (St Patrick’s College, Silverstream) – Tom follows brothers Nic and Luke into the First XV and is already a starting first-five at Year 11. Mannix takes the ball to the line with confidence and slotted some crucial kicks in Silverstream’s victory over Gisborne Boys’ High School.

Herman Seumanufagai (St Pat’s Town) – The big winger enters his third season of First XV rugby having enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2018. Seumanufagi was selected for the Wellington Under-18’s and maybe employed by Town in and around the midfield for extra power.

Tafa Tafa (Wairarapa College) – The No.8 enters his third year in the First XV where he’ll be expected to be the main ball-carrying option and a solid presence on defence. Tafa is also the captain for 2019.

Ridge Studd (Wellington College) – The deputy head prefect was one of the few positives to emerge from Wellington’s disapointing 2018 season. Studd covered four positions including hooker and second-five but well spend most of his time in 2019 at openside when his strength over the ball is best utilised.

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