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Wellington First XV season underway in full this weekend

  • By Adam Julian

The following has been written for College Sport Wellington and will be promoted by them. But we are posting here to Club Rugby too for those organic readers who don’t also follow and read CSW. 

For Premiership First XV draws and results visit

St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, their matches against Scots College have become one of the fiercest rivalries in First XV Rugby.

Since 2012 Silverstream has won 93 Premiership matches, Scots 92. However, Scots beat Silverstream in the final in 2014 (21-18), 2019 (20-15), 2020 (24-21), and 2023 (29-27). Honours were shared (36-36) in 2021.

A small piece of bore pipe was the only thing that denied Thomas Tukapua and Silverstream from a miraculous draw last year. Down 29-10, Silverstream rallied furiously with the fullback instrumental in creating three tires. Cruelly his last kick of the season pinged off the post. Tukapua is back in 2024, likely to drive Silverstream from ten.

Scots College’s Rugby Director and former Māori All Black Andre Bell departed in the summer. On February 19 Dominic Bird was named as his replacement. The three-time All Blacks lock won seven NPC Premierships in a decorated first-class career (166 games, 125 wins). He had been working as an operations manager for a plastic recycling start-up.

“This role is a perfect fit, living in town with two boys and wanting to stay involved with rugby,” Bird said.

“Working with teenagers has been a massive challenge, but I’m excited about the quality of players.”

Reweti Ngarimu (openside) and Jake Lawson (halfback) have been named co-captains of a side that’s retained about half of their 2023 squad. Fullback Manihera Gardiner, speedster Richard Jones, giant props Tobias Mene and Charlie Barton and loose forwards Brandon Lo and Joseph Sailo, whose brothers Issac and Epa were in the First XV, are key figures.

Scots ran out of front rowers at the end of 2023. After eliminating Central North Island champions Fielding High School 43-35 in the Hurricanes Regional semi-final, Scots sensationally defaulted their chance of making the National Top Four on grounds of safety. Bird concedes Scots don’t have the numbers others enjoy but a greater focus on building depth in that specific area was a priority.

In April, Scots was second in their annual Presbyterian quadrangular, St Kentigern College, Auckland winning the tourney for the seventh consecutive year.  A 33-17 defeat to Hastings Boys’ High School was a setback with the visitors surviving an hour with 14 players.

Stability prevails at St Pat’s Silverstream with new coach John Herbert (assisted by Karl Davis) involved with the First XV for a decade. Former Wellington hooker Tim Mannix oversees the whole rugby program. Herbert’s area of expertise is forwards and especially scrummaging.

With front rowers Noah Krijnen, Heath Tuifao, and Jericho Wharehinga back, along with loose forwards Drew Berg-McLean and Elijah Solomona, expect Silverstream to adopt a no-nonsense, organised approach to their play. Tukapua, Kian O’Connell, Jeremiah Peleseuma and Liam Slight provide backline firepower. Locally Silverstream’s 2nd XV has been unbeaten for three years.

Silverstream has been the best performer of the Wellington schools in preseason. They achieved wins against Nelson College (33-15) and St Bede’s College (17-13). Both those sides were in the Top Four of the Crusaders Championship in 2023. In the Tranzit Festival Silverstream foiled Napier BHS (26-12) and Gisborne BHS (20-18).

Wellington College, coached by former All Blacks, Neemia Tialata, Piri Weepu, and John Schwalger, will be competitive. Wellington had a dozen selections in the Wellington U16s and the U15s finished second at the National tournament. Loose forward Z’Kdeus Schwalger (John’s son) was exceptional and could break through. First five Archie Sims grew enormously as a starting Year 11. Flanker Ollie Church, lock Harry Law, and hooker Dan Hawes will be at the heart of the Wellington engine room. Centre Callum Connell and fullback Carisma Faitala are the spark in the backs alongside Sims. Wellington has won a record 14 Premierships with 14 but none since 2017. Wellington College beat St Pats Town in the first Premiership game 43-10 on Wednesday.

Hutt International Boys’ School (HIBS) opened in 1991 and made the Premiership semi-finals for the first time last year. With 13 players, including four props, moving on to repeat that achievement will be difficult. HIBS only has four teams: 88 players in total with 28 trailing for the First XV.

Still, there is optimism that HIBS will compete with stability in the coaching staff. Hutt Old Boys Marist stalwart Scott Ashton partners former Wellington lock Richard ‘Sledge’ Devery for a fourth consecutive season with Dominic Wright on board in a support role. Teacher and rugby convenor Jess Anderton builds a base of players from the intermediate school with boundless enthusiasm.

HIBS has nine players returning. Wellington U18 Centurions first-five Sean Carter, hooker George White, and No.8 and Head Boy Rhys Evans will be key leaders.

Openside Tyler Craig has a relentless appetite for defense and Thomas Prichard (midfield), Mylo Guthrie-Thiel (lock), and Doug Sheriff (loose forward) were all Wellington Under 16 reps in 2023.

“The squad will be young, athletic, keen, and coachable. These are key ingredients in the HIBS rugby model,” Ashton said.

“HIBS traditionally receives the underdog tag, however, the successes of the past two seasons mean the boys now carry more belief in their ability to match themselves against the larger and traditional boys schools.”

Pre-season was trying for HIBS with heavy defeats to Gisborne BHS (0-32) and Palmerston North BHS (0-59). HIBS hasn’t played that pedigree of opposition before. Such a trying examination should hold HIBS in good stead for Premier One.

“Death week” was how Tawa College coach Cliff Hunt described his sides’ three victories in seven days to qualify and retain the Beard Trophy and qualify for the Premiership.

In the second round of grading Tawa upset St Patrick’s College, Wellington (Town) for the first time in their history 29-24 to qualify. There are 21 returning players from last year and they are the only school from the Porirua Basin/Beard Trophy competition to qualify this year. The previous weekend Tawa accounted for St Bernard’s College 28-19. St Bernard’s upset Wellington College in the week Wellington won the Quadrangular last year.

Tawa was down 24-22 with only moments to spare against Town when inspirational hooker and captain Malachi Suniula tapped from a penalty and caught unsuspecting defence napping.

Suniula scored tries in all three wins and his audacity in rejecting three was typical of Tawa’s bravery this week. Earlier winger Labront ‘James’ Muldruck-Tolai scored a spectacular try, from just outside his 22 when he regathered a daring chip from centre Malachi Osman.

Another crucial moment was just before halftime when pint-sized halfback Mako Ah-Far slithered underneath a pile of bodies to nudge Tawa ahead at halftime.

Hunt has had two boys, Anthony and Cliff Jr in the Tawa First XV. His nephew Boston Hunt has played lock for Ngāti Porou East Coast and in 2022 won the Jim Brown Memorial Medal as the man of the match in the Jubilee Cup final won by Norths 23-20 over Petone.

First-Five Eden Govind is an impressive player with an accurate kick and swift pass.

Tawa doesn’t have a second XV just an Under 15 team that combines with Newlands College.

Sixth last year an unacceptable result for St Pat’s Town so predictably there was a shake-up in the summer. Dr. Paul Bracewell has been appointed Rugby Director. His father, Doug, played rugby under Sir Brian Lochore at Wairarapa Bush. John Bracewell is one of his uncles, one of the four Bracewell brothers who either played first-class cricket or rugby, with two of them playing test cricket for New Zealand.

Dr. Bracewell is a partner at Wellington company Dot Loves Data which produced a groundbreaking model for rating more than 3000 professional rugby players across the planet, a model NZ Rugby Senior Scientist Ken Quarrie called “genius.”

Bracewell is looking at applying one of the sports prediction/ratings algorithms to prem, colts, and college rugby this year but playing numbers and boys’ attitudes are a more pertinent concern in pre-season.

57 players turned up for the senior trials and there should be enough numbers for four teams with a similar number of junior sides.

Front rowers Ioane Aukusitino and Faimalie Tagoai, lock Riley Bracewell, and outside backs William Stenhouse and Dane Ford-Tuveve shape as crucial figures for new coach and old boy Willie Leota who coached Scots College to a shared Premiership in 2021. Town beat Porirua College 63-0 to qualify for the Premiership. Town is young with only nine Year 13s in their matchday squad against Wellington College.

Paraparaumu College has qualified for the Premiership for the first time since 1989 after wins over Premiership regulars Wairarapa College (26-19) and Rongotai College (29-22). Coach Les Poutama (influenced by great New Zealand softball coach Don Tricker) has got Paraparaumu humming.

At one stage in their unexpected win against Rongotai, Paraparaumu was leading 29-5. Co-Captains Adam Van Vuuren (centre) and Daniel Oldroyd (openside) and fullback Rico Poutama (2) had scored tries.

Van Vuuren and Oldroyd have been in the First XV for three seasons and have a “high work rate” and “great ethics.” Paraparaumu has grown enormously since losing the Premier 2 final against St Patrick’s College Silverstream’s 2nd XV last season. Poutama has guided much of the squad since winning the Under 65A grade four years ago.

Van Vuuren and Poutama (son of Les) also scored tries in the Wairarapa victory with No.8 Freddy Kreuzer a damaging presence in both victories and winger Otis Black converting six of eight tries.

Poutama is no stranger to Premier I rugby. In 2017 he guided Kapiti College to the top flight and in their inaugural season they achieved a respectable four wins in nine matches.

Poutama is assisted by Ashley Drake whose son Paora plays first-five. Ashley captained the Cook Islands Sevens team and appeared in the 2006 and 2014 Commonwealth Games. A double centurion for the Waikanae club he won four senior club championships and made 89 appearances for Horowhenua Kapiti.

Paraparaumu has four teams: First & Second XV, Under 15s and Under-65kg. PE teacher Tim McMillan is the rugby coordinator.

Rongotai College has featured in the semis four times since 2016 and has the raw talent and size to be unpredictable. Rongotai wasn’t a contender in 2023 but took only two minutes to ruin Wairarapa College’s season. In the last round, Wairarapa led Rongotai 19-10 with a one-man advantage with two minutes remaining. With a win, Wairarapa was headed to the semis but tries to Phoenix Hague-Smith and Teddy Stanley earned Rongotai a 20-19 win and propelled HIBS into fourth.

Rongotai’s coaching staff, Joe Fiu, Tony Philp, Francois Hacquet, and Ray Teahan remain along with ten players, including first-five Jay Philp, inspirational captain Tui Gaualofa, and combative loose forward Naea Fui. Rongotai was stung by their loss to Paraparaumu and bounced back strongly to conquer Taita College 36-12.

Wairarapa College is rebuilding but after a year that saw them beat both Wellington College and St Pat’s Town. After their first-round grading loss to Paraparaumu, they defeated Upper Hutt College and were defaulted to by Naenae College. No.8 Mitchell Shields and first-five Le’Sharn Reiri-Paku share the captaincy and are experienced players. Charlie Carroll is a speedster on the left wing and lock Austin Grant isn’t short of size.

St Bernard’s College flipped a pre-season defeat to Hutt Valley High School, edging their larger neighbours 14-10 this past Saturday, to regain their place in the Premiership. With only eight returning, St Bernard’s are rebuilding but shouldn’t be discounted with four of their 2023 defeats by ten points or less.

Two key players have made positional switches. Carlos Taaga-Anae excelled on debut at fullback and will look to do the same at centre with his swift footwork and growing strength. Isaac McGuinness is back for a third rodeo. McGuinness makes the shift from lock to flanker. His ability to stifle at the breakdown will no doubt frustrate opposition. TJ Tanoai is a Year 11 outside back with a touted league reputation. Jesse Smith is a sturdy Wellington U16 prop. His growing appeal on the St Bearnard’s underrated social media page will be something to monitor throughout the season too.

Hutt Old Boys’ Marist double centurion Nick Risdon is Rugby Director and Matt Time and Phil Timo are the coaches. Risdon and Time played together when St Bernard’s last won the Premiership in 2001. Time scored two tries in a 17-10 win against Wellington College in the first final played at Porirua Park.

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