- By Scott MacLean
Draws & Results are HERE
With the halfway point of the Swindale Shield now passed it’s time for teams to put their foot down if they want to be part of the Top 8 picture for the Jubilee Cup playoffs in six weeks time.
Elsewhere it’s the start of the second rounds in both the Premier 2 and Colts grades, and the opening weekend of the College Premiership and Premier 2 as well. And with rain featuring heavily in the forecast it could well be the first bad-weather Saturday of the season.
There’s one major player milestone, with Avalon’s evergreen and seemingly indestructible Akuila Alatini bringing up 150 Premier games for the side since his debut in 2006. A truly loyal Avalon man, that number doesn’t include the matches played when the club were outside of the Premier grade so our estimation is that he’s pulled on the maroon and blue well over 200 times. Clubrugby congratulates him on this achievement,
Premier Swindale Shield
The eyes of many will turn north this week, with a pair of high-profile matches taking place out that way. Leading off is third vs second when Tawa return home to Lyndhurst Park to take on Marist St Pat’s. Both sides enjoyed comfortable, though contrasting, wins a week ago; Tawa had to come from behind against the Upper Hutt Rams but were able to pull away in the second half, while MSP used a first-half blitz to subdue Ories.
Predictably, both sides will be as near to full-strength as circumstances allow. For the home team, that means returns to the starting side for Lotu Nuku, Hugo Plummer, Tito Ioane, and James So’oialo, and Pepesana Patafilo moves into centre.
MSP have a strong loose forward contingent, with Matt Peni packing the back of the scrum and James Tuia and Keelan Whitman coming off the flanks. A couple of tweaks to their front row, where Tui Tuia reverts to prop in the absence of Vince Sakaria and Meinrad Fitsemanu comes in to start for Jacob Dunn. Veteran Valentine Meachen starts at hooker
A short distance up the road, Norths are also back on home turf at the JCS after a couple of weeks away where they’ll face Oriental Rongotai for their To’omaga Alex Iona Memorial Cup, and with both sides looking to get back into the winners circle. Aside from the result, Norths will be disappointed with aspects of their loss to Wainuiomata and will be keen to address those. Up front there’s a starting debut for former St Pats Town standout Bradley Crichton, and Daniel Aiono, TK Bishop (from suspension), and Junior Time-Taotua all return, while there’s the interesting inclusion of Faifili Levave on their bench.
Ories will likewise want to atone for last week, especially the slow start that largely dictated matters for the balance of that defeat. Many of that side will get the chance to do that tomorrow, though a number of changes have been rung by coach Mason Malagama’alii with John Tuia and William Heather reintroduced to the loose and brothers Steven and Reuben Va’a to midfield.
Iona had ties to both clubs, firstly playing for Ories after his arrival in the capital and later moving north where he turned out for Porirua. Norths are the holders after their 38-14 win last year.
By contrast to their two nearest pursuers, leaders Old Boys-University would seem to have a fairly straight forward assignment against winless Paremata-Plimmerton on their regular paddock of Nairnville Park, which also doubles as their latest defence of the Bill Brien Challenge Cup. The Goats were merciless against Johnsonville and will be wanting to keep their standards up despite making a number of changes which includes starts for Sam Green and Cody Quin, a debut for former Aotea College star Owen Wright, and return from injury for Callum Harkin.
At the very least Pare-Plim will want to avoid a repeat of their ignominious concession of a century in this fixture two seasons ago, and will take heart from the fact they rallied to get a bonus point last week that has, for now, lifted them off the very bottom of the table. The return of Johno Sabo to the #10 jersey with Justin Wilson heading to fullback in place of younger brother Khya is the only change to the team that started against Poneke.
Filling out the top five are the clubs that straddle the Hutt River, who head in opposite directions. Petone venture north to Maidstone and a meeting with the Upper Hutt Rams, while Hutt Old Boys Marist go south into the city to face Poneke at Kilbirnie.
After surrendering the McBain, Petone found the perfect tonic by easing past Avalon a week ago and know that winning is the only way to keep pace – at the very least – with the sides ahead of them. For Upper Hutt, they can’t drop out of the top eight this week, but could find their margin reduced to the minimum and their bright start to the season fading if they don’t get the win here.
Up front there’s just one change for the Rams with Jack Wright starting, but out back it’s a reshuffled outfit with returns for Tafa Tafa and Todd Svenson and a first start for Peter Te Kura. Both Zeke and Tupou Sopoaga return to the Villagers starting side along with Adam Clark, with Soli Malatai given the job of replacing Vince Aso in midfield.
They’ll also contest their Ted Connolly Cup. Connolly, along with his brothers Adrian and Eric, was an influential member of the Upper Hutt club before, during, and after WWII. Petone holds this after their 58-12 win a year ago.
After their slow start, HOBM have won five on the bounce and will be looking to continue that. But they’ll face a Poneke side that will have some belief restored after arresting their own slide, and will know that their top-eight hopes will heavily rest on getting wins, especially on their own turf.
Poneke will be without veteran duo Greg Foe and Ben Huntley, but add size with Antonio Vaka and speed through the return of Nick Robertson while Pakai Turia faces the side he turned out for last year. Jason Hoffman and last year’s St Bernard’s captain Jono Little form the Eagles locking duo this week and Nadaniel Lima gets a first start in the main changes to their side from a week ago.
They’ll contest their Roy John Trophy, who was a Wellington rugby and cricket representative who turned out for both Poneke and Hutt FC. HOBM were narrow 24-22 winners last season.
Finally are the two matches between sides in the bottom-six heading into the weekend. Avalon celebrate their Old Timers Day by hosting valley rivals Wainuiomata, and while that top-eight might be beyond the Wolves, they can certainly put a large dent in the visitors’ hopes to get there. And with the day itself and Akuila Alatini’s 150th they won’t be short of motivation.
Teofilo Paulo, Phil Green, and Mike Va’a all return to the Wolves’ starting pack in front of an almost unchanged backline with only Laman Ah Wong and Charles Mataitai swapping places. Wainuiomata will look to build on last week’s morale-boosting win over Norths and after scoring the matchwinner coming off the bench last week, coach Dan Farani has inserted himself into the starting XV this time. The only other changes are returns for fellow veterans Uale Mai and Isaiah Mamea who come in for TJ Va’a and Peter Umaga-Jensen respectively.
At stake between the pair is the Anthony Waldrom Cup, won 31-24 by Wainuiomata last season. Waldrom senior turned out for Wainuiomata in his playing days, with his sons Thomas and Scott having distinguished careers at Fraser Park (with Scott’s still continuing in their 85s).
Wellington will be happy to be back at Hataitai Park, where they’ve been more competitive so far this term than on the road. Johnsonville are the visitors who’ll be wanting to get over last week’s heavy defeat to the leaders and stay on the fringes of top-eight contention.
The Axemen are starting to get a settled look to them, and their chances get a boost through the inclusion again of Vaea Fifita, while another addition is long-time MSP player Jay Cameron who’ll partner Ahtun Masun in midfield. The Hawks have largely stuck with the same players who took on OBU though there are position switches for Irish duo Mark Sutton and Niall Delahunt and skipper Andy Ellis reverts to fullback.
Wellington are also looking to retain the Mick Kenny Memorial Cup the two play for, having won it 13-10 last year. Kenny played for the Hawks before World War II and the Axemen after it, and was instrumental in having a Services Trophy that he had played a part in winning during the war – the Harper Lock Shield – being donated to the WRFU.
Tomorrow’s second round in the Division 1 Tia Paasi Memorial has Hutt Old Boys Marist on home turf at the Hutt Rec for the second consecutive weekend where they’ll host Norths who had last Saturday off, while Petone, themselves coming off their first win of the year, will try to get one back off of Marist St Pats when they meet across the river at the Hutt Rec.
In the Division 2 Izzy Ford Cup Avalon will look to build on last week’s win when they welcome Poneke to Fraser Park, while Old Boys-University and Wainuiomata go in search of their first win on the field when they meet at Nairnville Park.
Oriental-Rongotai and Paremata-Plimmerton have the two respective byes this week, and like last week have opted against playing the non-comp crossover fixture.
The second-tier start their championship round this weekend, with a few changes to the mix. After winning Division 2, the Upper Hutt Rams have been promoted into the Division 1 Ed Chaney Cup for this part of the season, and start out at home at Maidstone against OBU. Harper Lock Shield winners Tawa renew acquaintances with MSP at Lyndhurst, Norths and Ories meet in the early game at Porirua, and Poneke and HOBM do likewise at Kilbirnie.
Division 2, which plays for the HD Morgan Memorial, has been expanded to nine teams with the addition of a second Norths team. That side, Norths White, start out by making the short trip north to face Pare-Plim at Ngati Toa. In the other matches Avalon and Wainuiomata meet for the second consecutive week only this time at Fraser Park, Johnsonville heads to Hataitai for the second time this year to face Wellington, and after being relegated Petone Blue face their White clubmates on the Rec. Stokes Valley has the first-up bye.
The college season gets underway in earnest with the Premier and Under 15 divisions joining the weight-grades in competition mode.
Following Wellington College’s 31-18 win over St Pats Town, the balance of the opening Premiership fixtures are tomorrow. Defending champions Scots are at home against a resurgent Mana, Silverstream are likewise to face Aotea, and returnees Hutt International and Porirua host St Bernard’s (at Maidstone Park) and Rongotai respectively.
In Premier 2 holders Upper Hutt head into the city to face the Wellington College 2nds, Wairarapa open their first Prem 2 campaign in several seasons away to the Silverstream 2nds, and the Town 2nds host Kapiti at Evans Bay. In the two all-1st XV clashes Naenae head up the coast to take on Paraparaumu, and Tawa host neighbours Bishop Viard.
The Colts also enter their second round, though unlike the Premier 2 grade there hasn’t been any promotion/relegation. The three Division John E Kelly Cup matches pit first-round winners and holders OBU Green against Tawa in the Ian Galloway cage, MSP head to Petone to face the Villagers at the Rec, and HOBM head south to take on Ories at Polo. In the Division 2 Vic Calcinai Memorial matches Avalon hosts OBU Black at Fraser in a meeting of the first rounds top two, Pare-Plim are at home on Ngati Toa against the Upper Hutt Rams, and Wainuiomata welcome Poneke to William Jones.
The Under 85’s hit the penultimate round, with the JC Bowl Eastbourne’s to lose and they’re in the city against the OBU Scallywags at Ian Galloway. Avalon and the Upper Hutt Rams would be hoping the Gulls slip up, with the former hosting MSP at Fraser and the latter at Helston to take on fourth-placed Johnsonville. At the other end of the table Wests will be after their first win when they host slumping Poneke in the Ian Galloway cage, and Wellington and HOBM meet on Kilbirnie Park.