- By Scott MacLean
For Jubilee Cup semi-finals teamlists visit HERE
The pressure gets ramped up tomorrow with playoff rugby across the top four men’s grades and in the second tier of the women’s. It’s an environment where precision and accuracy are demanded, and mistakes are likely to be punished. No quarter will be asked for nor given.
Who will progress to next week’s Finals Day at the Petone Rec?
Note that kick-off times are earlier this week to allow for the possibility of extra-time.
Premier Jubilee Cup
Oriental-Rongotai (1) vs Wainuiomata (4)
A week ago this seemed an unlikely playoff pairing given what needed to transpire for it to happen, yet here we are. Third going into last Saturday, Ories made sure of their place by beating an understrength and already-eliminated Poneke and wound up top of the table after both Tawa and HOBM lost, with Wainuiomata accounting for the latter as they forced themselves in.
Ories will be hoping that home advantage and a large, passionate, gathering of the Magpie faithful will see them make their first final since 2013. They’ve made a handful of changes from the visit to Kilbirnie last week, with Peniali Poasa, Hinckley Siaosi, and Trent Renata restored to the starting side; but for some the interest will lie in their bench stocks where the distinctive figures of Alex Fidow and Ma’a Nonu have been named and you wonder how soon the Ories brains trust will introduce them.
The trip to the Polo Ground won’t hold any fears for Wainuiomata, having already won there 21-12 in the first-round of the Jubilee Cup. They hold the wood over the Magpies this season, having beaten them 27-0 at William Jones just a couple of weeks prior in a result that both allayed fears of missing the top flight for the second consecutive year, and came at the start of a purple patch of seven straight wins. Their side tomorrow sees Anthony Mamea start in place of Justin Va’a in the only change in the pack, while a rejigged backline has the ageless Uale Mai at halfback, TJ Va’a at first-five, and John Monu at centre to replace Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
Tawa (2) vs Norths (3)
A week after Norths’ 24-17 win at Porirua Park the two northern foes will do it all over again, only this time at Lyndhurst with Tawa’s losing bonus point being enough to get home advantage. However – like Ories above – the home side go into the match having lost both outings against their opponents this year with the other being the Sammy Saili Trophy clash by 25-32 on this same ground. Both sides won 4 of their 6 round-robin matches and there should be plenty of fireworks.
In what won’t be much of a surprise there’s only one change across both sides from the respective 22’s from last week and that comes in the Tawa #7 jersey where Hemi Fermanis returns in place of Jack Sturmey. Matters to watch for are which side gets dominance up front, how respective halfbacks Kemara Hauiti-Parapara and Campbell Woodmass both orchestrate matters and aid their relatively inexperienced #10s, and the impact of the benches where big names and game breakers lurk.
Experienced Premier referees Jamie Fairmaid and Daniel Mangin have been appointed to the two matches. Fairmaid will control the match at the Polo Ground, with Mangin at Lyndhurst.
Premier 2 Hardham Cup
Old Boys-University (1) vs Upper Hutt Rams (4)
As with Norths and Tawa, the two teams with cloven-hooved quadrupeds for spirit animals will do it all over again this weekend. However – and as is their want to do in recent years – the Goats have again decided that the grass is greener away from Nairnville Park and have opted to take the fixture to the Hutt Rec, meaning that they’ll have further to travel than the Rams do. That said, the Rams will have to be better than they were in last week’s 48-0 humbling, but injuries to key players have taken a sever toll on them this season.
In team news the Goats have a pair of changes up front with Jonathan Fuimaono and Matt Sleith returning in place of Finnbarr Kerr-Newell – who reverts to the bench – and Shamus Langton who is with the Maori U20 side in Rotorua. Out back Josh Wilson starts at fullback in place of Sam Reid who joins a bench that includes a pair of returnees in NZ U20s rep Taine Plumtree and the imposing Izzy Foai. The Rams will try again with the same forward pack, but a rejigged back division with Kono Feaunati, George Faainga, and Tynan Barrett all reintroduced.
Marist St Pat’s (2) vs Wellington (3)
Back in the city there’s no issues with grounds or distances to travel as near-neighbours MSP and Wellington clash at Evans Bay. MSP won their last meeting 43-5 a couple of weeks ago, but that earlier 10-13 loss to the Axemen at Hataitai earlier in the season still stings. It’s also the result that gives Wellington hope of an upset, and proof that they can achieve anything on their day.
Both sides are down on manpower, with MSP’s Tyrone and Leo Thompson and Keelan Whitman and Wellington’s Isaac Bracewell all also on representative duty in Rotorua.
MSP make a wealth of changes from that that rolled past Avalon a week ago, with Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tietie Tuimauga, Charlie Gubb, James Tuia, and Isaia Petelo amongst those returning. Old master Fa’atonu Fili against starts in the #10 jersey, with Billy Proctor interestingly named at fullback. Wellington last played two weeks ago when they needed a late penalty to get past Pare-Plim, having had the bye last week. Their side tomorrow includes returns for Hilton Mexted and the impressive James Poloniati, and veteran Tala Kitekei’aho pulls on the #1 jersey.
Promising Premier referees Jack Sargentina and Ryan McLean will referee the two Hardham semis. McLean has the match at Evans Bay, with Sargentina in charge at the Hutt Rec.
All four Premier matches are at 2.30pm.
Premier Reserve Ed Chaney and HD Morgan Memorial Cups
The top flight of the second tier has top-qualifiers Norths hosting Ories at Porirua Park, while Petone are at home on the Rec against Tawa. Norths have lost just once all season with that coming at the back end of the Harper Lock Shield to first-round winners MSP and will be favourites although Ories might be already warmed up for playoff rugby having beaten Poneke is a ‘win or go home’ clash last Saturday. Petone had the bye last week, so it will be seen whether they’re fresh or rusty out of the gate while Tawa had a bruising encounter against. They’ve split their two meetings this season, with both those having been at Lyndhurst.
In the HD Morgan tier MSP will put their season-long unbeaten run on the line against Wellington at Evans Bay, and having won scored nearly 300 points in the last three weeks – including an 83-0 win over their opponents three weeks ago and 62-5 earlier in the season are practically unbackable favourites. The Axemen thought their season was over two weeks ago, but circumstances mean they are here tomorrow though face a huge mountain to climb. The other semi-final should be a closer run thing, with OBU and the Upper Hutt Rams meeting for the second successive week having drawn 22-all last Saturday at Nairnville, and the Rams edging matters 15-12 earlier in the year.
Matt Thomas and Ronan Marks will referee the two Ed Chaney semi-finals with Marks at Porirua Park and Thomas at Petone. Jury Tenitenismeaton has the HD Morgan match at Evans Bay, and Scott Marriner will be in the middle at the Hutt Rec.
All four matches are 12.30pm starts this week
Women’s Tia Paasi Memorial and Izzy Ford Cups
One grade not at the playoff stage is the Women’s top division, with tomorrow seeing the final matches of the double round-robin format before next week’s final. Norths (22) are already through to defend their title, though tomorrow they head to the Ian Galloway cage to take on an Old Boys-University (15) side that will be on a high after beating Ories last week. However the Impalas fate still sits with Oriental-Rongotai (16), who despite losing their last two games only need a bonus-point win against Petone at the Rec to ensure they’ll face Norths for the fourth time this year.
It is playoff time in the second division though. Paremata-Plimmerton finished top of the table and they’ll host Wainuiomata at home at Ngati Toa Domain, with Marist St Pat’s having home advantage against their Marist cousins Hutt Old Boys Marist at Kilbirnie Park. Pare-Plim’s Alohagia Tuangalu becomes the first player in the team’s current incarnation to play her blazer game for the club, while Georgia Broughton becomes the second to attain that honour at MSP when she runs out in their match.
All four matches are at their normal time of 11.30am.
Colts John E Kelly and Vic Calcinai Memorial
The matchups in the top division have HOBM taking on MSP on one side, with Ories and OBU Green on the other. HOBM sealed top spot two weeks ago and last week saw off OBU, while MSP overcame their points deduction to make the playoffs through a combination of their win over Petone and Tawa’s loss to Norths. The pair met at the same stage last year where HOBM won via a late penalty, so there’s plenty of history here. Defending grade champions OBU Green were perhaps understrength owing to the university holidays last week in that loss to HOBM, but that result means that they’ll head to the Polo Ground again where they as first-round winners they surprisingly lost to the promoted Division Two champs after Ories beat Pare-Plim in their last round-robin game a week ago. Ethan Loveridge and Monique Dalley are the respective referees for the two matches.
In the division two games Poneke will host the Upper Hutt Rams at Kilbirnie Park in the 1v4 game, while the Avalon Wolves – who beat Poneke last week – face OBU Black for the second time in a fortnight on the Fraser Park artificial. Promising young referees Ollie Michie and Brad Newson will control these matches.
Like the Premier Reserve matches these are all 12.30pm starts this week.
First Grade Johnsonville Centennium Cup
Also reaching the playoff stage is the third-tier, though not without some controversy this week. Avalon’s win over Stokes Valley last Saturday means that they finished top and were originally slated to play Wainuiomata with Stokes Valley hosting HOBM. However defending grade champion HOBM’s participation was protested against as they defaulted twice in the round, with the points deduction for their second default two weeks ago against the Wolves incorrectly applied. With that now corrected HOBM drop to the bottom of the table, and tomorrow’s matches now have Avalon hosting Old Boys-University on the Fraser Park artificial in one semi-final, with the other not too far away at Delaney Park between Stokes Valley and Wainuiomata. Both matches kick-off at 2.30pm
Elsewhere the Under 85kg grade have their final round before their playoffs. In the top division the Upper Hutt Rams win over Avalon assures them of top spot with the bye this week, with the Wolves and Johnsonville to battle over hosting rights at Helston this week ahead of a rematch next Saturday. Paraparaumu and HOBM meet up the coast in a win-or-go-home encounter for the fourth spot.
At the College level there’s two matches between now and next weekend. Wellington College heads to Masterton to take on Wairarapa College in the final match of round seven, before round eight commences on Wednesday with the heavyweight Traditional match between hosts Silverstream and leaders St Pats Town. Town will warm up for that match by taking on emerging Palmerston North school Manukura at Evans Bay today. UPDATE: St Pat’s Town won this game 35-10.