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The A-Z of Wellington Club Rugby for 2022

  • By Scott MacLean

The 2022 club season kicks off this weekend with the first round of 13 in the Premier Men’s Swindale Shield as well as the start of the Women’s Rebecca Liua’ana Trophy campaign, with the remaining club competitions to get underway later this month.

Our seventh annual A-Z looks at the season ahead.

A – Ability: The place where players skills – taught to them at junior level – are honed remains the college game and where the stars of tomorrow are developed. Last year’s Premiership Final, a draw between St Pats Silverstream and Scots College, was an absolute classic and while there will be interest if the rest can challenge those two this year, there are hundreds more kids out there on a Saturday giving rugby a go. And we need more of them doing it and staying in the game as they get older.

B – Blue: After three consecutive Jubilee Cup final appearances, Norths fell a game short of that a year ago. They’ll be expected to contend again, and while they certainly have the talent to be there once again, they’ll have to deal with several significant departures, and their once-vaunted depth is also a lot shallower than it was. Still, they’ll be a dangerous opponent for anyone.

C – Changes: As carried here four weeks ago, rugby in 2022 will look different with several trial laws in place, and both the teams and referees alike continue to adjust. It’s the latter group though that are charged with implementing and officiating them, adding more complexity to an already difficult but integral part of the game. The Wellington Rugby Referees are always looking for people to take up the challenge so if you’re looking for a way to get involved, give them a call.

D – Direct: The word that best describes how Oriental-Rongotai play the game. Perennial contenders they are, but it’s been a decade since they contested a Jubilee Cup decider. No club does a better job of having their local talent stay local nor having that sense of community spirit than the Magpies do at present, but can they soar high enough to bring the Jubilee back to the Polo Ground?

E – Enigma: For a club with the rich history of success that they have, it’s been a very fallow period for Petone who won’t need much reminding that they’re in their longest ever title drought. A strong start last year fizzled out just when the chance of those top four places beckoned and were then surprisingly beaten by Poneke in the Hardham Cup final. Keeping pace and a couple of significant wins seems critical for the Villagers this year.

F – Flat: There’s no other way to describe the finish to Marist St Pats’ 2021 season after being played off the Hutt Rec by Tawa in the Jubilee Final and extending their title drought by another year. That would have stung them, and if there’s one thing we know about MSP is that they seem to thrive in those circumstances. With their veteran core you’d expect them to be back at the sharp end, but a couple of significant absences could equally leave them struggling.

G – Gulls: Eastbourne may have just one senior team, but that one is one of the leaders in the weight-restricted game. Their centenary season might have yielded silverware, but both championship glory and a deep run in the National Knockout proved elusive and surely that’ll be in their goals this time around.

H – Hammerhead: The spirit animal of Paremata-Plimmerton that is said to lurk in nearby Hongoeka Bay. Perhaps no bigger splash was made in the offseason than by the Ngati Toa club, with Gerrard Fasavalu making the move up SH59 to take up the coaching reins. They’ll be looking for that move to provide immediate dividends though after last year’s winless campaign, even a couple of wins would be a move back in the right direction.

I – Incremental: For the smaller clubs it’s how those gains are measured, like for Johnsonville. The Hawks might have won just two games during the Swindale, as they did in 2020, but were a far more competitive side across the season and finished up overturning both Wellington and Upper Hutt in the Hardham playoffs. Can they go further in 2022?

J – Jolted: Leaders for much of the season, Old Boys-University’s tilt at another Jubilee Cup was abruptly ended when losing to HOBM and Norths in successive weeks on their home paddock. Claiming the Swindale Shield is unlikely to have provided the Goats much solace, and with several players having moved on or with the Super franchises the season ahead could be a challenge but write them off at your peril.

K – Kings: Finals Day 2021 will go down as one of Tawa’s greatest days, having walked away with both the Jubilee Cup and the Premier 2 Ed Chaney Cup, the latter completing an unbeaten season and their Premiers having turned in a stunning performance in dismantling MSP to claim Wellington rugby’s ultimate prize for the third time. Could they make it four? After another solid offseason in the recruitment stakes, they’d have to be one of the title favourites in their 75th anniversary year.

L – Lion: The animal holding the Axe in the crest of Wellington. Recapturing the glories of the past has proven elusive so far for the Axemen, though unlike those around them on the table they have at least made the Jubilee Cup in the past decade. Always one of the more prolific recruiters, the addition of Dion Waller – one of their All Blacks of their long history – to their coaching group could be the start of the push back towards the top.

M – Maroon: One of the colours of Avalon, along with light blue. The Wolves’ period of struggle continued in 2021 registering just a single win. But their second side and Under 85s won their titles, their Women runners-up in theirs, and their Colts had a good season as well; so it’s not all doom and gloom at Fraser Park and the challenge for their Premiers will be to match the rest of the club. Oh, and they’ll finally be able to take to a proper, renovated grass field at home again after several seasons.

N – Numbers: Rugby remains a game for all, but there has to be serious concern that the slide in player numbers continues, and with it the fate of the game at a community level. Will the money from the Silver Lake deal help? Or have people just become too detached from the game to be part of it anymore?

O – Omicron: Who thought that a little more than two years ago our lives would be governed by obscure letters of the Greek Alphabet? But here we are, and while we hope that last month has seen the most virulent of the Covid variants at its worst, the spectre that games and grades will be badly affected by it – including the possibility of defaults at the Premier level – can’t be avoided yet.

P – Playoffs: While planned to be a repeat of last year’s format that might yet depend on how much havoc the Pangolin’s Revenge wreaks on the season. It might not have been the easiest to follow but it did produce some excellent rugby at the right time of the year that sorted the year’s champion team out, even if one of those weeks was played in the worst conditions seen in Wellington for many years.

Q – Quality: One thing that remains unchanged about the Wellington rugby scene is that it continues to churn out good players, even if the club-game bridge from the school game to the elite level is quite short for some. That will remain the case for 2022, with many aiming for those few Lions spots seemingly not covered by the Super Rugby pros, or for the Women places in the Pride squad for the Farah Palmer Cup.

R – Revival: Things haven’t been the easiest for Poneke in recent years, particularly finding themselves squeezed for players in the tight Eastern Suburbs area. But last year saw an uptick in fortunes by nabbing the Hardham Cup at season’s end, and things are looking a bit brighter at Kilbirnie Park. New coach Reggie Goodes knows a thing or two about what’s needed at the next level and they’ve brought in a couple of high-profile college starlets, but it will be odd not seeing Greg Foe running out for them this year.

S – Stronghold: Always one of the more difficult places to visit for opposing sides has been Wainuiomata’s William Jones Park, and not just for the battle that the home side puts out but their supporters up the hill next to the field as well. They’ll need it to remain tough, as no other side has perhaps been changed by departures and retirements as they have.

T – Time: Is it running out for Hutt Old Boys Marist? While they’ve always been there in recent years, the Eagles core isn’t getting any younger and that inability to get over the hump must surely be creating some frustration at the Nest. The very astute Kent Harris has resumed head coaching duties, so can he take his team back to the top?

U – Unders: as in Under 85kg. The weight-restricted grade is part of NZR’s strategy to re-engage players with the game (see ‘N’ and ‘X’ as well) with the National Knockout at the cornerstone of that. Still an entertaining grade, Avalon are the reigning champions and looking to add to their legacy, while there are hopes that a few more teams can front this year. And here’s hoping for a full Knockout competition too after two Covid-blighted ones.

V – Vexing: The problem that confronts the Upper Hutt Rams. In the past two season they’ve achieved just one win against a side that finished ahead of them on the Swindale table (HOBM in 2020). That wouldn’t be bad, but they’ve managed just four in each year. They’ll need to overcome that to be a contender in 2022, and all while operating from temporary facilities with the grandstand and clubrooms having been torn down over the summer in the next stage of the redevelopment at Maidstone Park.

W – Wahine: While the advent of professional contracts and Super Rugby Aupiki are positive steps for the Women’s game, it’s perhaps a little disappointing that there’s a drop in teams this year with both HOBM and, surprisingly, OBU both dropping out. That means a return to a single round-robin ahead of a split later in the season, but the major competition question that needs to be answered is can anyone stop Oriental-Rongotai?

X – eXit: Notwithstanding ‘Q’ above, and with a definite nod to ‘N’, departures from the local game are a talking point coming into the Premier season. As highlighted by our annual Gains and Losses feature, there’s several retirements, others taking the season off for family, work, or to get over persistent injuries. For those leaving but still playing, Hawke’s Bay seems to be a popular destination while a host of youngsters have decided their immediate future lies in Otago.

Y – Yellow: Along with red, the colours of Stokes Valley. Seemingly destined for oblivion just a few years ago, the Delaney club has reinvented itself and is now thriving once again. Their senior side will again compete in Premier 2 looking to go better than last year’s campaign, while hopefully their revived Under 85s side also returns for 2022.

Z – Zoom lenses: As always, the last letter is for those otherwise unsung photography heroes that help us cover our game, out there week-on-week no matter the weather and with their armada of lenses. Without them and their time the local scene would be the poorer for it so to Dave Lintott, Russell ‘Chainsaw’ Potts, Hugh Pretorius, Mike and Caroline Lewis, Andy McArthur, Dave Brownlie, Joe Serci, Stewart Baird, Peter McDonald, Masanori Udagawa, Warwick Burke, James Foy, Barry Stead, Tarn Styche, Reef Reid, Dan Taylor, Jared Clarke, Mark Fairmaid and others, thank you for your work.


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