- By Steven White
Jack O’Brien has come down to Wellington from Hamilton this year to join the WRFU Academy and Marist St Pat’s and has already left his mark.
A strapping midfield back with a cool head, O’Brien has shown both qualities in his first two Swindale Shield matches for his new club.
This past Saturday he laid down the kicking tee a good 10 metres to the right of the posts on a heavy Evans Bay Park to slot the match-equalising conversion in MSP’s 31-31 draw with Johnsonville.
This followed on from the 32 points he scored against Northern United on Premier debut.
“I didn’t realise how many points I got, I only saw when the team posted it up after the game how many points I had scored, so it was a pleasant surprise,” said O’Brien.
He scored two tries and kicked eight conversions and two penalties as MSP beat the defending champions Norths 67-25 for the Maurice Standish Cup.
He thinks it’s the most points he has scored in any match, which includes a three-year First XV career for St John’s College, Hamilton.
We think it’s the most points by a player in their first Premier club match, at least in the modern era.
One other feat that springs to mind is former St Pat’s Town fullback Sosi Tuimavave scoring a competition record 50 points for Poneke against Rimutaka in his third Premier start in 2013. In terms of try-scoring, former HOBM player Michael Pehi crossed for four tries against Upper Hutt on Premier debut in 2006.
“I only really started goal-kicking for my First XV team,” said O’Brien. “I wasn’t meant to kick in this match, but our first five Andrew Wells went down injured, and I was handed the duties just before kick-off.”
He was all set to join MSP on the plane to Sydney for their pre-season tour but had to stay behind. “I was meant to travel, but I fell sick right for a few days before it, so I didn’t end up getting on the plane.”
O’Brien arrived in Wellington in early January to start the year with the Wellington Academy, and played in a handful of early season matches for that team and made the Hurricanes U20s that finished runners-up to the Blues in the Super Rugby U20s tournament in Taupo.
“I didn’t get to play in the pre-tournament match against the Chiefs and against some players I know from home, but I played off the bench to play centre against Moana Pasifika and started at second-five against the Highlanders. I ended up getting concussion in that game, so I missed out on the final against the Blues.”
It was conversations with Darren Larsen that helped entice him to Wellington this year.
“I came down for a visit and got offered an Academy contract. Waikato offered me one too, so I was weighing it up for a while and I felt like it was a good opportunity to make the Hurricanes U20s and hopefully go further with my rugby, and to come to Wellington and move away from home.”
He has started studying marketing at Victoria University and lives in nearby Te Puni Village student accommodation in Kelburn.
Rugby training for the Academy consists of Monday evenings at the NZCIS facility in Upper Hutt and Wednesday and Thursday mornings at Rugby League Park, as well as regular MSP trainings across town.
Going to a Marist school in Hamilton, MSP was a natural club to join. Plus, his father and brother. “Dad is a Life Member of the Hamilton Marist club, so he steered me to MSP down here in Wellington, and my older brother is playing Colts for Hamilton Marist. Although dad is a former prop and my brother is a hooker, so I’m the odd one out there!”
Both the Wellington Academy and MSP have made him feel welcome, and he is enjoying learning off senior players around him such as Wells and Isaiah Petelo, and coach Fa’atonu Fili. “They have all helped me out a lot and it’s been going well.”
What about the Fili magic and the no-look pass? “I’ve been trying to work on that, I’m trying to get there!”
The aforementioned head knock in the last Hurricanes U20s match in Taupo delayed O’Brien’s start to the club season, missing the first two matches against Avalon at Evans Bay Park and Tawa at Lyndhurst Park
“I got cleared on the Friday before the third match against Norths and made my debut the next day.”
He has started his first two encounters at centre, where he is comfortable at, while he is also right at home at second-five if asked to play there.
“It’s been a good so far, although it’s definitely a change from what I have been used to; bigger bodies and harder hits.”
O’Brien spent 2020-22 in the St John’s College, Hamilton, First XV, culminating in the team nearly winning the Central North Island (CNI) Championship and himself personally making the New Zealand Schools Barbarians side.
Last year, St John’s had nine consecutive bonus point wins to top the table after the round-robin, then eased past Hamilton’s St Paul’s Collegiate 50-15 in their semi-final to set up a final with Feilding High School.
There the team went down 22-33 to Feilding to finish runners-up. “We showed up to the final probably expecting to win and they played well. We didn’t get the start we wanted and were chasing the game and couldn’t catch up.”
“A group of us players had grown with the team over our time playing in the CNI competition. A few years ago  our school had won just one game, so we built our team together.
“The very next week we played Hamilton Boys’ High School in the Waikato final of the Top 4 qualifiers. We lost by a couple of tries and we missed a few opportunities when the line was wide open, so we were a bit disappointed there.”
St John’s also finished a credible ninth at the Condor 7s tournament at the end of the year.
Several of O’Brien’s school teammates are now playing club rugby and involved in Academies, mainly in Hamilton/Waikato, but also fullback Kyan Rangitutia is with the Highlanders U20s.
O’Brien was happy to make the NZ Barbarians Schools side in October. They played games at nearby St Paul’s Collegiate against Fiji Schools and the New Zealand Maori U18s.
This coming Saturday’s fifth round Swindale Shield match is against Old Boys University for the Jack Lamason Cup.
Lamason was a No. 8 and occasional goal-kicker, who 90 years ago this season led the Wellington College Old Boys Tigers to their one and only Jubilee Cup title.
He captained both the Wellington provincial rugby and cricket sides and played cricket for New Zealand on their tour to the UK in 1936/37.
Kick-off at Rugby League Park is 2.45pm.
This week’s Huddy Hui guest is Rhodes Featherstone, former MSP junior and St Pat’s Town student: