The Wellington Lions are primed to play their 500th NPC match since the start of the competition in 1976 and appear in their seventh NPC semi-final in the past decade when they host the Hawke’s Bay Magpies tomorrow night.
The Lions also go into this clash against the Magpies hoping to both reverse the results from their recent Ranfurly Shield meeting and repeat their semi-final win over Auckland this time last year.
The Magpies scored a last-gasp try to win 20-18 and lift the Log o’ Wood off Wellington at this venue a fortnight ago. Much was made of their post-match antics, but on the field, they proved a tough adversary that the Lions will need to try and overcome once more.
Last week, the Lions were impressive throughout much of the game against Waikato and led 25-7 at one point. Waikato came back and almost won at the end, the final score being 32-28 to Wellington.
The Magpies were seemingly on the ropes at 28-12 down late in the first half and still behind throughout the second half, but a comeback and a try to Hutt Old Boys Marist second-five Chase Tiatia gave them their 38-28 victory.
The Lions are expecting another bruising, physical clash against the Magpies and have named a 6/2 forwards/backs bench split. This includes the return from injury of Asafo Aumua at hooker.
The starting XV is unchanged from last week, with Riley Higgins starting on the left wing and Julian Savea on the right and with Lions Player of the Year Losi Filipo again missing (presumably injured but they don’t tell us that so we have to speculate). Ditto, Peter Lakai, with Caleb Delany again playing Blindside flanker and veteran Teofilo Paulo partnering Dominic Bird at lock.
Any number of head-to-head match-ups to look out for in the starting XVS, but a few include James O’Reilly v Tyrone Thompson at hooker, Brad Shields v Devan Flanders at No. 8, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara v Brad Weber at halfback, Aidan Morgan v Lincoln McClutchie at first-five and Peter Umaga-Jensen v Chase Tiatia at second five and Caleb Delany v Marino Mikaele-Tu’u at blindside in the battle of the OBU Goats. Mikaele-Tu’u is one of Hawke’s Bay 23 players have also plied their trade in Wellington club rugby.
Remember to head to the ground early to avoid the rush ahead of the 7.05pm kick-off.
The Hurricanes Schools Sevens Tournament is being hosted by the Wairarapa-Bush RFU at the Gladstone club south of Masterton tomorrow.
On the boys side of the draw just five schools, including just one from Wellington, have made the effort to play in and support this tournament, which just a few years ago was fairly popular (the inaugural tournament in 2014 won by Scots College attracted 20 teams).
St Pat’s Silverstream are Wellington’s only entrant, following the withdrawal of St Bernard’s College.
The boys will play a four-match round-robin series and then a straight final.
In the girls division, St Mary’s College and Feilding High School will play a three-match series on the day.
The draw is below – updated at 1.00pm Friday:
Two Heartland Championship region unions are playing in finals this afternoon, both in the South Island.
The Whanganui Butcher Boys head to inland South Canterbury to play the home side in the Division 1 Meads Cup final. South Canterbury have proved a formidable nut to crack, particularly at home, and will be playing for their 31st straight win. Kick-off at Pleasant Point is 2.05pm tomorrow.
Poverty Bay is heading further into Mainland territory to Oamaru to meet West Coast in the final of the Division 2 Lochore Cup. Kick-off at John Sturgeon Park, Greymouth is 2.05pm Sunday.
Then there is the big one on Sunday morning. The Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Ireland, kick-off 8.00am.
The Result aside, there is plenty riding on the All Blacks on Sunday.