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The Unit on Scallywags Success and U85kg Camaraderie

  • By Adam Julian

Matt ‘The Unit’ Fowler won three Jubilee Cups with Old Boys University in 2017, 2018, and 2020.

This year he’s a player/coach for the Old Boys University Scallywags who won the first-round Under 85kg JC Bowl.

The Scallywags won all 11 matches and outscored opponents 626 to 52 achieving a maximum of 55 out of 55 points. 

“The camaraderie of this grade is unique.  It’s not all about winning, though that’s nice, it’s about having fun, enjoying the game, and competing against people your size which helps for someone like me,” Fowler said.

“I’m very grateful for my time in the Prems. I played behind some legendary forward packs, so I was well protected, but when you’re in the Prems it’s basically an all-week commitment. 

“You have selection meetings, two trainings a week, watch video to be across all the information by Saturday for the game, and then spend Sunday recovering. It’s a big commitment. 

“This grade gives me a release from work without taking so much time. It’s still competitive but I think our match at Eastbourne said a lot. We played a hard game and then had a barbeque and a big night at one of the best clubrooms in the city afterward. I think in the Prems we lose sight of that sort of thing sometimes.”

The Scallywags were much improved last year, just missing out on the local final and making it to the National quarterfinals. This year an improved player-base and the same commitment to playing an enjoyable brand have pushed the team to new heights.

The banter flows easily among the students, including a lively social media presence and some former Premier playing pushing themselves to the limit to make the weight restrictions.

“Jack Green stops eating on Friday and spends Saturday morning in a sauna. When Wirangi Parata weighed in a month ago against MSP the first number on the scales was a nine, so he’s been on a salad diet ever since,” Fowler laughed. 

“We have a hydration technician and some of the boys are on low-carb beers.”

The quality and knowledge of Premier players enhance the roster immeasurably. Matt coaches the Scallywags with his dad Gary.

“The knowledge gained from Premiers is massive. It’s such a thrill when you see guys come to training and within an hour pick thing up, they didn’t know. We don’t over-train, and I think that’s important,” Fowler said.

Winning by centuries might suggest the grade is weak but Fowler disagrees. The second round Paul Potiki Shield will see the top six teams divorce themselves from the bottom six with a straight round-robin before the final in August.

“Poneke is the toughest game we’ve played. We play a fast and intuitive style whereas Poneke is aggressive and direct, which we struggle with. Tawa is a newly formed team, and their improvement has been massive. Petone gave us a tough game in the first round and Stokes Valley always feature in this grade.”

National club competition is another appealing feature of 85kg rugby. The Southern Bush Pigs from Otago are present National champions, but the Scallywags have high hopes of dethroning the Southerners. Current Premier talent like Wellington Lions training squad halfback Kyle Preston could be available for Nationals with wholesale changes permitted to existing rosters.  

“The game has become more brutal and direct and yet there is more focus on attending to head injuries and player welfare. I’m not sure those two things are compatible,” Fowler observed.

“Rule changes to limit physically or more even weight-restricted contests might be what’s required to keep more eyes on the game. A lot of my friends prefer to watch the NRL rather than the boring legalised obstruction of the rolling maul.

“All Blacks like Brad Weber and Damian McKenzie are Under 85kg. Imagine if they could play this grade and still be in the All Blacks.”

The Scallywags were formed six years ago by Mitchell Butler who left the team this year to travel Europe. Roydon Shaw has been another key figure in coaching and management.


  • Under 85kg Division 2 Round One (Tony O’Brien Shield)
    8/7/2023 – 2.45pm kickoffs.Wests v Johnsonville at Ian Galloway ParkMarist St Pat’s v Wellington at the Polo GroundEastbourne v Hutt Old Boys Marist at HW Shortt Park.

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