Updated 10.00am Monday: Argy-Bargy, the East-West NPC final and sevens heaven.
It’s the end of the 15s season for Wellington players and the supporters and the sevens season just around the corner.
Starting with sevens, local fans are gearing up for the annual Condor 7s tournament at Naenae College on Labour Day Monday.
This is followed by the Sir Gordon Tietjens tournament in Palmerston North on the weekend of 28/29 October, the one-off 2023 WRFU American Ambassador’s tournament at Trentham Memorial Park on 11 November and the return of the Central Region Provincial 7s at Palmerston North on 18 November (formerly in Levin).
In one sevens tournament played over the weekend, the 10th annual Hurricanes Youth Council 7s tournament saw Feilding High School (boys) and St Mary’s College (girls) emerge as winners.
Former St Pat’s Silverstream and Hutt Old Boys Marist player Chase Tiatia broke Wellington Lions supporters’ hearts on Saturday night at a windswept Wellington Stadium.
Tiatia scored a hat-trick of tries on his birthday for the Hawke’s Bay Magpies to help end the Lions’ season on a disappointing note and propel his team into the final next week against Taranaki in New Plymouth.
Just as telling than Tiatia’s tries was the Magpies’ gritty defence. Led by Hurricanes No. 8 Devan Flanders and Wainuiomata openside flanker Sam Smith, they were very committed, and it wasn’t until the last few minutes when they had the game in the bag that it let up and the Lions broke through for a couple of consolation tries to make the final score 25-24.
Plus, the loss of talisman Lions No. 8 Brad Shields, who was sin-binned in the 17th minute for a high tackle on his former Petone teammate Nick Grigg, and who took a knock to the nose in the process. He then failed a HIA assessment and wasn’t allowed to return to the game. Shields wasn’t happy with the diagnosis, making his frustrations known.
Then there was the case of Morgan Mitchell, the ‘new’ Wellington tighthead prop who was presented to Lions fans on their televisions just before kick-off. Mitchell replaced Siale Lauaki, who was named on Friday but had been injured against Waikato. Who is Morgan Mitchell? He is the Southland Stag tighthead prop, who, as per the rules, took the field as a loan player. One for the Rugby Almanack ‘Happenings’ section!
With a record winning run of 21 consecutive victories and two defeats by a combined margin of three points it’s hard to find fault with the Lions this season, though it was a shame injuries took their toll at the end and on occasions it seemed Wellington was playing too much kickball. Still, outstanding seasons from Xavier Numia, Caleb Delany, Dom Bird, Peter Umaga-Jensen and Billy Procter. Unsure how Losi Filipo got Lions Player of the Season as well (not to say he had a bad season, scoring seven tries and setting more, albeit missing the final two matches) but others were perhaps more influential? Maybe its a feel-good award now or awarded on rotation. If we had to make the choice our Player of the Year probably would have been last year’s winner, Numia, ahead of Proctor or Umaga-Jensen. The growth of Harry Plummer, Penieli Poasa and TJ Clarke was especially encouraging but one must be concerned by the mounting injuries of Josh Southall while the perseverance with a slowing Julian Savea is holding up the pathway for promising young wingers like Ethan Webster-Nonu, Joe Falafaga and Isi Samaki to break through.
As for Hawke’s Bay, they end the season as the kings of the Hurricanes region and will play in their first major NPC Division 1/Premiership final. This is against Taranaki in New Plymouth.
Question from a reader. ‘When was the last time that the NPC final didn’t involve any one of the sides from the five Super Rugby base cities, Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Canterbury or Dunedin?’ The answer is 2014, with Taranaki beating Tasman 36-32 in that decider.
No Super Rugby base unions in this year’s final is something to ponder for the [near] future when decisions are made about what to do with both Super Rugby and the NPC as both together (and arguably individu are clearly not financially sustainable anymore. To back that up, Club Rugby was recently told that the WRFU was losing money they don’t have to start with just by staging the home quarter-final and home semi-final, and even more so next week if they had made the final as the home finalist also has to pay all the costs of hosting the visiting finalist. This was on top of the 24 financial members this year. So, quietly, the WRFU accounts department could have been pleased they lost to Hawke’s Bay to stop the bleeding.
Faced with the choice, NZR, their paymasters and the broadcaster want Super Rugby to stay and the NPC to go, the majority of fans and supporters want Super Rugby gone and the NPC to stay.
From our perspective, the template for Super Rugby Aupiki next year should also be applied to the Men’s Super Rugby competition. Next year’s Women’s Super Rugby competition has been extended with a home and away format before a final, a longer pre-season training programme and player payments increasing. Each club will contract 30 players (an increase of two players per squad) who will take part in an eight-week individual paid preparation window before a four-week pre-season that will include two matches.
Who remembers the old South Pacific Championship or Super 10 competitions?
The South Island teams won both Heartland Championship finals over the weekend. South Canterbury beat Whanganui 40-30 at Temuka on Saturday. It was close heading into the last several minutes with Whanganui trailing 30-33 and building on attack. But a turnover gave South Canterbury field position and eventually they scored the winning try and were mobbed by their supporters rushing the in-goal. This was South Canterbury’s 31st win in a row.
Nigel Walsh is one of the more impressive coaches in the country. https://www.allblacks.com/news/winning-with-walshy/
On Sunday, West Coast beat Poverty Bay 23-20 in the Lochore Cup final in Greymouth. West Coast scored all their points in the first half to lead 23-0 at halftime, then held on into the stiff wind in the second. This was their first title. The entire pack was superb, but Tyler Kearns (loosehead), Troy Tauwhare (hooker), Tumama Tu’ulua (lock) and Steve Soper (openside) are especially worthy of acclaim.
In the Manawatu, Brayden Iose was named their Player of the Year, at the union’s awards last week. Fullback Beaudein Waaka and loose forward Howden were also named the Turbos’ best back and best forward respectively. Midfield back Rangimarie Sturmey was the Cyclones Player of the Year – completing a stellar comeback from her after suffering a knee injury last season. Jayden Keelan (College Old Boys) won the Manawatu club rugby Best & Fairest competition.
More coaching appointments for club rugby next season:
On to the Rugby World Cup,
The All Blacks will face Argentina in their semi-final this coming weekend. Argentina beat Wales, but surely, if repeated, the pace of the game in the New Zealand-Ireland was a couple of notches up from the Pumas game?
For the All Blacks, Sam Cane finally delivered. The captain had the Nantes 1986 stare and focus going on in the tunnel heading out on to the field and silenced his critics with probably his best game in black.
Other All Blacks to stand out included Ardie Savea (as always) and Jordie Barrett who made the defensive play of the game by holding up the Irish over the line, and who kicked a couple of crucial penalties.
The other side of the draw will see England playing South Africa.
England held off Fiji 30-24 in their semi-final on Monday morning, followed by South Africa defeating host nation France 29-28.
France has only trailed at halftime in 5 of their last 59 Test matches.
England are the only unbeaten team at the tournament.
Three southern hemisphere sides in the semi-finals – after some predictions last week of there being none.
For only the sixth time in 360 Tests since the TAB opened for sports betting in 1996 the All Blacks went into a match as underdogs. The other occasions were.
- $2.00 v Ireland, Paris, 2023 – Won 28-24
- $2.70 v South Africa, Johannesburg, 2022 – won 35-23
- $2.00 v South Africa, Mbombela, 2022 – lost 26-10
- $2.50 v South Africa, Durban, 2009 – lost 31-19
- $2.60 v South Africa, Bloemfontein, 2009 – lost 28-19
- $2.30 v South Africa, Durban, 1998 – lost 24-23
Aaron Smith was yellow carded for a deliberate knockdown against Ireland but what about Eben Etzebeth for South Africa against France? A disgusting miss with all the technology and the circumstances of match.
The Aaron Smith card aside, Wayne Barnes had a wonderful quarter-final. The maul was policed with a regular reminder of only one push forward rather than the sideways crabbing, rejoining, restarting nonsense that has plagued the game.
With rugby winding down for the year, so is this column.
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