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Tight tussles expected as top eight cut-off looms large

  • By Scott MacLean

Draws & Results HERE

UPDATED: The end of the Swindale is rapidly approaching and tomorrow looms as a decisive round for the sides around that eighth-place cutoff for the Jubilee Cup playoffs next month. Elsewhere the Women are closing in on their finals, the Premier 2 and College grades have another full round, and the Colts resume after a week off.

On the club front, two that are at the heart of their local communities celebrate their Old Timers Days with festivities at both Norths and Oriental-Rongotai.

The “E Tu Whanau Footy Show” will be at the Petone Recreation Ground for Petone v Old Boys University at 2.45pm. Gordon Noble-Campbell will be joined by Andy Leslie and Eugene Smith.

Premier Swindale Shield

After three weeks padding their points differential against sides in the lower reaches of the table, leaders Old Boys-University face a rather more stern assignment when they head to fourth-placed Petone to face the Villagers for valuable competition points and their Marc Verhoeven Memorial Trophy.  As with last week OBU can’t fall out of top spot but would obviously rather prefer to keep their margin, while Petone face a rather more challenging run in and will fancy nothing more than taking down the leaders tomorrow.

Petone returns Tupou Sopoaga, Ben Brooking, and Dylan Williamson to their side, with the latter playing his 50th and Blazer game and there’ll be interest in how youngsters Peter Lakai and Riley Higgins fare. The Goats bring back players who sat out last week in some form including Cody Quin, Te Wehi Wright, and Izzy Foai, with Kenan Gillson and Kyle Preston returning to the starting side from the bench.

Marc Verhoeven – nicknamed Alby –  was a Jubilee Cup winning captain with Petone, before moving into town to become OBU’s (then known as Harlequins) inaugural captain. His death in Sydney in 2011 aged just 50 was a shock to the Wellington rugby community, with the trophy put in play the following year.

Second by virtue of their win over MSP two weeks ago, Tawa are back in the comfortable surrounds of Lyndhurst Park for the visit of Hutt Old Boys Marist. The home side continue to roll, registering seven straight wins after a winless start and will be after all five points to at least maintain their position and keep the pressure on OBU. They’re able to make use of their extraordinary depth and bring PJ Sheck, debutant Weston Sao, James So’oialo, Elijah Va’a-Brooking, Adam Preston, and Maui Wallace all into the starting side.

Last weekend’s fumbling loss to Norths put an end to the Eagles’ Swindale hopes, and their focus will now need to be on securing one of those top-four places that comes with a second-chance in the playoffs. James O’Reilly returns with Ben Power shifting to the back of the scrum, and a reshuffled backline resembles that which finished last Saturday’s loss.

Three of the weekend’s Swindale matches are east of the Mt Victoria tunnel. One of those is at Evans Bay, where, like Tawa, Marist St Pats will be after maximum points when they host Avalon with their Joe Aspell Cup at stake, looking to repeat last week’s anniversary weekend effort. The Wolves will be the underdogs, but for inspiration they only need to look back three years when a patched-together side achieved one of the great upsets of recent years.

MSP make a raft of changes, including a return for James Tuiatua just two weeks after being left laid out on the Lyndhurst turf and replacing Tom Martin who suffered a serious injury last week. Andrew Wells is back at fullback with Aidan Morgan at first-five in the absence of James Proctor. Avalon roll out an almost entirely different forward which includes returns for Logan Blake and Sefo Aumua from injury and suspension respectively and veteran Damian Madsen is also back to direct traffic from halfback.

An additional feature is that this match will be refereed by leading women’s whistler Maggie Cogger-Orr, who recently refereed the first Women’s Super Rugby match played between the Blues and Chiefs.

Joe Aspell was a Marist player in the post-war years and later served the club in many ways including as President and was made a Life Member. In business he was the licensee of the Taita Hotel, one of several he ran, and donated the trophy for play between Marist and Taita which has been carried on by their successor clubs.

Through the cutting is one of the highlight matches of the schedule, with Oriental-Rongotai facing neighbours Poneke at the Polo Ground with both bragging rights and the Jimmy Grbich Memorial Shield on the line. Sitting in fifth, the Magpies are also chasing one of those top-four places and will know that the ‘O’ faithful will expect that they’ll deliver a win on Old Timers Day. Penieli Poasa and Saia Paese are the notable returns to their starting side, while on the bench is Roderick Solo, primed for his first action since offseason knee surgery.

After their recent visits to Pare-Plim and Wainuiomata, Poneke continue their run of providing the opposition on other clubs’ festivities. But they will be painfully aware that their slim hopes of making the top-eight could be over unless they get the win. They get a shot of experience with centurion Greg Foe and 200-gamer Ben Huntley both returning.

As with the game above, this match will also have a visiting referee in charge in the form of former All Black turned referee and commentator Kane Hames.

A dynamic midfielder-turned-loose forward with Poneke, Wellington, and the NZ Maori, and who formed a formidable partnership with Moray Bevan, Jimmy Grbich remains a legend of Wellington rugby. The trophy was presented soon after his untimely death in a car accident in 1962 and has been hotly contested ever since with two wins each (and a draw) and no margin greater than six points in the last five matches for the Shield.

Also after a win on their Old Timers’ Day will be Norths, who eased their top-eight worries with their win over HOBM and will be looking to back that up on Jerry Collins Stadium. The Upper Hutt Rams provide the opposition in their Terry Farrow Memorial Cup clash, and having lost five of their last six to drop out of the top-eight desperately need to turn their fortunes around.

Norths have Zane Edwards on debut at first-five, replacing Dale Sabbagh who fractured his wrist in last week’s win over HOBM, while at the other end of the experience scale, Faifili Levave comes into blindside flanker and Lise Soloa plays lock. Right wing Junior Time-Taotua, like Edwards a Porirua College old boy, plays his 50th Premier game.

The Rams have a host of changes looking to combat Norths’ size, with Josh Houston-Tupou making his first start since his return as does Murphy Taramai, with erstwhile hooker Eli Hunt donning the #12 jersey in midfield as he’s done in the past.

The trophy was donated by the Farrow family after the passing of Terry who was another instrumental in the merger and later made a Life Member of Norths, with Terry’s father George having attained the same honour with Upper Hutt.

Replacing the Rams in the top-eight are Wainuiomata following their anniversary weekend win over Poneke. They’re at William Jones for another week where they’ll face Johnsonville, and will be looking to consolidate their position. They have several changes from last week’s side with Blade Rapira, Jason Love, and Caleb Nicholas all starting amongst others, but plenty of ammunition available to them from the bench.

The Hawks hopes of climbing out of the Hardham Cup are probably done but can still put a spanner in the aspirations of others, including their opposition tomorrow. They’re as much changed as their opponents are with Adney and Rodney Roebeck both given starts and Andy Ellis continuing his nomadic existence across their backline, lining up at centre this week.

Finally, there’s the third game in the eastern suburbs with Wellington taking on Paremata-Plimmerton at Hataitai in a match between the bottom pair on the ladder, and both destined for the Hardham Cup playoffs. The Axemen don’t have the services of Vaea Fifita or Danny Toala this week but do welcome back James Coburn and Jayden Kini as they look to make an impact across the remaining rounds.

The winless visitors will need to bury the first-half demons of the past two weeks, where they’ve conceded nearly 50 points before oranges, and instead know that they’ve won two of their last three meetings with Wellington and had a third taken away by an overzealous refereeing decision. Injuries and absences continue to bug the side with hard-working loosies Peni Taupau and Luke Omeri both out this week though Blake Neve returns to run the ship at first-five.

Premier Women

It shapes as a pivotal round in both divisions in the Women’s grade as they head to their finals in two weeks time. After their win last weekend, Norths can book their place in the Division 1 Tia Paasi Memorial decider if they notch a bonus-point win over Marist St Pats in the first senior game of the day at Jerry Collins Stadium. MSP could join the gaggle on 10 points with a win, but with the bye next week they need an unlikely series of events to make it. Petone could also lock in a finals berth but would need to beat Oriental-Rongotai at Polo to do it, and with the Lady Magpies having lost their winning streak last Saturday and leading off Old Timers Day it would seem unlikely they’ll be in a mood to be generous. Bernadette Robertson plays her 50th and Blazer game for Ories.

It’s a little more clear-cut in the Division 2 Izzy Ford Cup, where Paremata-Plimmerton can lock in their place in that final if they beat Poneke at Kilbirnie Park, though the home team could seriously upset matters if they get the win. Old Boys-University and Avalon can each jump into second with a win and a Poneke loss, though with the bye next week that’s a more pressing matter for the Wolves.

Hutt Old Boys Marist and Wainuiomata – who are both out of contention – have the two byes this week.

Premier 2  

The leading pair after two rounds of the Division 1 Ed Chaney Cup are both back at home tomorrow with Tawa hosting HOBM and Norths Blue being visited by the Upper Hutt Rams at Lyndhurst and Porirua Park respectively. MSP and OBU clash at Evans Bay in a meeting of sides that won last Saturday, and winless pair Ories and Poneke provide the early afternoon entertainment at Polo.

There’s also a clash of the leaders in the Division 2 HD Morgan Memorial, with Wainuiomata and Johnsonville facing off at William Jones. Petone White head to Porirua to take on Norths White up on the #2 ground at Porirua Park, Wellington and Pare-Plim meet at Kilbirnie Park in two other fixtures with Avalon having the bye; but the game of the day is the late kickoff at Delaney Park as first-round runners-up Stokes Valley take on Petone Blue who have won their opening matches after being relegated.

Other club

After having the long weekend off, the Colts grade returns with a full schedule of six matches. In the Division 1 John E Kelly Memorial there’s a meeting of first-up winners with Ories taking on OBU Green at Polo, Tawa will look for their first win of the round when they meet Petone at Redwood, as will MSP and HOBM when they line out on Kilbirnie Park.

It’s a very similar story in the Division 2 Vic Calcinai Memorial, with the Upper Hutt Rams and Avalon who both won their openers a fortnight ago meeting at Maidstone. Wainuiomata will be looking to keep pace when they head to Ngati Toa to take on Pare-Plim, and OBU Black will look to avenge their only loss of the first-round when they meet Poneke at Kilbirnie.

Contrary to what this column last week said, the final match of the first-round Under 85kg JC Bowl will be played out with Johnsonville and Wests meeting at Helston. That’s the only game in the grade, so the other eight teams get to put their feet up for the weekend.


It’s a full slate of college games again this weekend, with the Premiership round highlighted by three local derby matches. One of those involves two of the three unbeaten sides so far, with Rongotai making the short trip around the airport to face Scots with the other, Silverstream, at home for the visit of Hutt International. The third derby is at Mana College, where the home side faces Porirua for the second time in a month. In the remaining matches Wellington College are on the other side of Porirua Harbour to face Aotea, and Town head into the Hutt Valley and a meeting with St Bernard’s.

In Premier 2 one of the joint-leaders – Upper Hutt – makes the trip across to Tawa while the other, Bishop Viard, is at home just up the road for the visit of winless Naenae. The Silverstream 2nds host their Town counterparts, Wairarapa College make the long journey around to visit Paraparaumu, and winless pair the Wellington College 2nds and Kapiti meet on the side of Mt Victoria.

The next game up in the Premiership is on Wednesday when Wellington College hosts Silverstream in their annual Traditional, while there’s a pair of Coed Cup games after that with Porirua hosting Aotea and that night Mana take on Tawa which also doubles as their next defence of the Beard Trophy.

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