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Great days in club rugby 006: The comeback kings

Josh Houston-Tupou scores for the UH Rams in their 26-25 win over Marist St Pat’s in 2019.

Since the first season that the Jubilee Cup was contested in 1929 there have been approximately 8,000 Senior A/Premier club rugby matches contested in Wellington.

In this new series for 2024 as part of our ongoing celebration of community rugby in Wellington, we have broken into the ‘Today in Club Rugby History’ files, selected a small sample of these matches and divided them up into similar categories of occurrences.

Never say never – time and again supporters have seen a team seemingly defeated, if not dead and buried, but a late flurry or an about-turn in momentum carries them home. This article looks at a small sample size of the many memorable comeback wins.

Never say never

12 June 1954: The Dominion reports that after a quiet first half, All Blacks Ron Jarden and Jim Fitzgerald excel in “completely bewildering the opposition with speed and clever changes of direction” in a key win for University over Athletic. Trailing 3-9 at halftime and clearly struggling, University lift their game and come back very late in the second half with a flurry of scoring  to win 17-9. This match is also notable for being Brian Fitzpatrick’s last match for the club ahead of transferring north. University had provided four players – backs Jarden, Fitzgerald and Fitzpatrick and flanker Bill Clark – to the 1953/54 All Blacks to Europe. They will win the Jubilee Cup this year for the third consecutive year.


1 April 1991: After missing out on making the Jubilee Cup round for the first time in 40 years the previous season (and subsequently winning the Hardham Cup), the Wellington Axemen defeat the powerful Hutt Old Boys 20-18 in this match. Wellington come back from an 11-point deficit to win against the Hutt side that goes on to win the 1991 Jubilee Cup a few months later. The Axemen are back in contention under the co-coaching of Graham Williams and Alan Muir and this win spurs them on to a third-place finish in the Swindale Shield.


3 May 2003: Swindale Shield strugglers HOBM win the McBain Shield off Petone, winning 22-20 after being down 0-15 inside 30 minutes. A converted try to Doug Power, converted by tyro halfback Piri Weepu, lifts them and they surge ahead. With three rounds to play, HOBM are already Hardham Cup bound, while Petone have a fight to consolidate their ‘top 8’ position. They will the first round in seventh.


31 March 2007:  Poneke pip MSP 18-17 in the battle of Kilbirnie first up this season. MSP take the early ascendancy and race to a 14-3 lead. Poneke close the gap and after halftime hooker Dane Coles links with fullback Tevita Latu to cross for a key try. No. 8 Chris Brightwell scores the winner with five minutes to play.


6 July 2013: Old Boys University topple red-hot Tawa 31-28 in the Nairnville Park mud. After trailing 21-8 at halftime, OBU comes roaring back with the wind in their favour to tie the score up to 21-21 midway through the second half and then 28-28 with the clock winding down. Player of the match, Wellington and Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga, then kicks the winner at the end for the Billy Goats. Tawa goes on to beat OBU in their semi-final three weeks later on their way to their maiden Jubilee Cup title.


27 April 2014: The Hutt Old Boys Marist Eagles come back from 17-40 down to bonus point 41-40 winners over the Upper Hutt Rams. Seemingly down and out, the Eagles lay on three converted tries and then a penalty on the stroke of fulltime to Glen Walters to win the game. It’s not the only such result today – In another stunning last-gasp win, Old Boys University halfback-turned first five-eighth Tomasi Palu kicks the match winning penalty with the final play of the game to give OBU a 30-29 win over Marist St Pat’s.


25 April 2015: A high scoring club rugby feast. HOBM take home the Father Cleary Shield and also defend the Bill Brien Challenge Cup with a remarkable 54-49 victory over previously unbeaten Marist St Pat’s, coming back from a 10-29 deficit.


2 July 2016: A comeback for the ages. The Upper Hutt Rams end Oriental-Rongotai’s unbeaten record in the second round with a stirring come-from-behind 46-29 win in their fourth round Jubilee Cup fixture. The Rams are seemingly dead and buried at 7-24 behind late in the first half but launch a furious five-try assault on Ories either side of halftime.  Flankers Mitchell Markov and Daniel Schrijvers and centre Max Pearson are key players in the comeback that sees them snatch a 26-24 lead at halftime and then 38-24 midway through the second spell.


15 April 2017: Home team Wainuiomata scores a try in the shadows of fulltime to give them a 27-24 win over the Upper Hutt Rams in their Peter Jones/Dave Ritchie Cup fixture. The Rams were leading 21-5 at halftime, on the back of tries to flankers Dan Schrijvers and Mitchell Markov (2), [see the same players in the entry above!] but Wainuiomata hit back and starve the Rams of ball and cut their earlier errors and come roaring back. The Rams still lead 24-22 late with fulltime fast approaching, but couldn’t prevent the winning try, to mark prop Justin Va’a’s 150th match for them.


20 April 2019: The Upper Hutt Rams break a 27-game duck in Wellington Premier rugby in beating Marist St Pat’s 26-25 at Evans Bay Park. The Rams roar back in the last few minutes to seal an unlikely victory following a MSP breakout and try that makes it 25-16 to the home side. MSP’s pack has dominated the Rams since late in the first half and this try was seemingly the match-winner. The Rams work their way up field and attack the corner through a lineout and left-wing Soli Malatai skirts around to score a bonus try. First five-eighth Tyler Tane judges the sideline conversion perfectly in the crosswind to cut the home side’s lead to 25-23 with barely a minute to play. From the kick-off, the Rams presses hard and are given a penalty 40 metres out in front. Tane, a former MSP player, steps up to give his side their first Premier victory over MSP since 2002.

Last but not least, this result detailed below from June 2020:

In the nick of Trei – Mu on his miracle match winner

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