Oriental-Rongotai v Wainuiomata
Top qualifier and Andy Leslie Trophy winners Oriental Rongotai will be attempting to play their way into their second consecutive Jubilee Cup final against fourth placed Wainuiomata who are playing in their first ever Jubilee Cup playoff match.
Ories' fighting 9-9 draw with Marist St. Pat's in last week's seventh round allowed them to cement the top qualifier's position for the semi-finals for the second consecutive year. Last year Ories made history by making the playoffs for the first time in the club's history and they went on to blast past Northern United 40-18 in the final. With essentially the same squad on board for this year's playoffs, their supporters will hope they can beat Wainuiomata and go and defend their title in the final next Sunday at the Hutt Recreation Ground against either Marist St Pat's or Norths.
In their first season back playing Jubilee Cup rugby, Wainuiomata will present a dangerous challenge to Ories' supremacy. After winning six matches and finishing fifth in the first round Swindale Shield, Wainuiomata sealed fourth place last week ahead of both Hutt Old Boys Marist and Tawa by beating Norths 25-19 at home at William Jones Park. This was their fourth win in seven matches in the second round and they bounced back from consecutive defeats to HOBM (0-3) and MSP (14-26).
With a tight-knit group of players, many of whom have been playing together since 2007 when the club returned to Premier rugby after a two-decade absence, Wainuiomata play a well-organised, structured brand of rugby. Their tight five is powerful and their loose forwards are strong ball runners who complement their swift backline. Defending champions Ories are also strong up front with a powerful scrum and strong lineout, but given a sniff they also look to play an open fast-paced game and counterattack from anywhere. With current New Zealand U20 outside backs Matt Proctor and Ambrose Curtis and rising star and dynamic openside flanker Ardie as just three examples of exciting players, Ories are the new entertainers of Wellington club rugby. Wainuiomata's task will be to shut these players down and if so this semi-final could be a thriller.
Some likely key head to head clashes close to the ruck include a big battle at prop between Ories captain Donal McNamara and Wainuiomata veteran and former Samoan Test prop Justin Va'a, at openside flanker between Savea and Wainuiomata's Greg Lealofi, and at halfback between Ories' Sean Hay and Wainuiomata's Frae Wilson. Both sides are dangerous out wide, with the likes of Proctor, Curtis and centre Paulo Aukuso up against a possible back three for Wainuiomata of fullback Fa'atau Mamea and wings Teru Time and Jason Love, all of whom are extremely dangerous operators in space.
In two previous matches this year, Wainuiomata beat Ories 37-20 at the Polo ground on Anzac Day in the Swindale Shield and Ories won 11-6 at William Jones Park in round one.
Marist St Pat's v Northern United
This semi-final is a battle of the Jubilee Cup heavyweights. Evans Bay Park promises to be a sea of scarlet and blue, with home side MSP and visitors Norths both expected to be well supported by their respective sets of passionate fans urging their teams on to the final next Sunday. Given the intimate atmosphere of Evans Bay Park and the Jubilee Cup pedigree of both sides, this promises to be a tense affair.
To state that MSP and Norths are no strangers to Jubilee Cup playoff rugby is an understatement; these two clubs are the two of the most successful clubs of the modern era with MSP having won or shared 13 titles since winning their first in 1978 and Norths winning or sharing four since their first in 2004. Norths are appearing in their 10th straight Jubilee Cup semi-final, having made the playoffs every year since 2003, while MSP are returning to top four rugby after missing out on the playoffs last year. These two sides met in the final in consecutive years in 2008 and 2009, with the first resulting in a 10-10 draw and the second a 21-16 win to MSP.
Second placed qualifier MSP enter the semi-finals with a record of five wins, a loss and a draw in the round-robin. They scored 186 points and conceded 83. Norths won four, lost two and drew one, scoring 171 points and conceding 98. MSP are coming off a 9-9 draw in a top of the table clash with Ories and Norths are coming into this encounter having lost 19-25 to Wainuiomata in the last round. While MSP enter the semi-finals with a slightly better record from the just completed round-robin series, their only loss of the round to Norths going down 10-31 at Porirua Park six weeks ago when Norths hooker Henry Smith scored a hat trick.
Home ground advantage could be a big factor for MSP who have won eight on the trot at Evans Bay Park this year since being beaten there by OBU back in the opening week of the season. The average scoreline at Evans Bay this year has been 25-10 to MSP. MSP beat Norths 35-27 in their first round Swindale Shield encounter, but that was also at Porirua Park. Norths beat MSP 48-10 the last time these sides met on Evans Bay Park in the 2011 Swindale Shield round. Norths have won four of their past five matches overall.
Both sides will be relying on their experienced players to carry them to victory. For MSP, their two ball winning locks Bernie Upton and Lua Lokatui will be key in freeing up the experienced halfback - first five-eighth combination of Peter Sciascia and Fa'atonu Fili. For Norths, captain Smith and openside flanker Dean Brunsdon are both big game players, while their possible halfback and first five-eighth Tomasi Palu and Peato Lafaele are both vastly experienced club players. If discipline is a decider, MSP's Fili is a proven sharpshooter with the boot and on his home ground and will bang over penalties and dropped goals from all angles.
Poneke v Marist St. Pat's B
Prior to this season Poneke were semi-finalists seven years out of the previous eight and finalists on four of these occasions. They contested five of seven finals at Westpac Stadium between 2000 and 2006, and were then beaten semi-finalists in 2008, 2009 and 2011. That's their recent record in the Jubilee Cup. They're safely back in the playoffs in 2012 - only this year it's the Hardham Cup semi-finals.
The pattern is familiar, but the script is slightly different for Poneke fans this year on account of their poor showing earlier in the season in the Swindale Shield. Notoriously slow starters, Poneke never really shifted out of second gear in this season's first round and they found themselves Hardham Cup-bound a couple of weeks before the finish of the first round.
Their problem was a lack of strike power and an inability to score tries. But they broke the shackles in the Hardham Cup, sweeping all before them to comfortably qualify top for this weekend's home semi-final at fortress Kilbirnie Park. In seven matches they piled on 284 points and conceded 51. This included a 24-18 win over their closest rivals and expected final foe OBU.
But first they must overcome near-neighbours MSP B who will cross the road with firm intentions of spoiling their party and playing their way into the final. For inspiration, MSB B can look no further than two weeks ago when they held Poneke to an 18-17 score against them at Evans Bay Park. The fourth placed MSP enter the playoffs with a record of three wins, three losses and a draw. As well as holding Poneke to just a one-point win, they drew 16-16 with third placed qualifier the Wests Roosters, lost just 13-17 to Swindale Shield side Rimutaka and beat Premier hopefuls Johnsonville 20-6.
Old Boys University v Wests Roosters
On form, Old Boys-University head into their Hardham Cup semi-final with the Wests Roosters as clear favourites, having beaten them twice already this year and won six of their seven round-robin matches convincingly. In seven games the students have piled on 274 points and conceded 59 and are coming off a 92-7, 16-try slaying of Johnsonville.
But they will know not to underestimate the Roosters who have the passion and the pride to go all the way and can never be taken lightly by anyone. Once more it's been a rocky old season for Wests who last won a club rugby title in 2003 when they beat Tawa 31-15 in the Hardham Cup final. A couple of giant killing wins in the Swindale Shield, most notably over Norths, gave their supporters hope that success was just around the corner. But it never arrived and they slipped to 10th in the Swindale Shield.
For the second consecutive season, OBU have had to pick themselves up from the canvas after finishing ninth in the Swindale Shield and missing out on the Jubilee Cup round. In the closest first round competition in years, OBU missed out on making the top eight with Petone's superior points differential pushing them out. They will also not want to get too far ahead of themselves, but OBU are especially eager to reverse their agonising 20-25 loss to Tawa in last year's Hardham Cup final.
History will count for nothing when the two teams line up on Saturday, but OBU supporters can point to their favourable recent head-to-head record against Wests in Premier rugby as a reason why their team could win this one. In their two meetings this year OBU outscored the Roosters one try ro nil to win 10-6 on Anzac Day and then defeated them 29-0 seven weeks ago at the start of the second round round. Wests have now not beaten OBU in their past 12 clashes. Apart from a 10-10 draw in 2009, OBU have won all their matches going back to 2005 when Wests beat them 19-9. This is the first playoff match between these two sides since the 2009 Hardham Cup final, won 42-8 by OBU.
Of note, the venue for this year's Hardham Cup semi-final, Kelburn Park, is OBU's fourth home ground used this season after the Hawkins Basin Reserve, and Nairnville and Rugby League Parks.
It's semi-finals time in the Premier 1 First XV competition and both matches could prove crackers.
In the first semi-final, top qualifier and unbeaten Wellington College takes on fourth placed St Pat's Town who won four from seven in the round-robin phase and then saw off St Bernard's 25-5 in last week's quarterfinal.
Wellington College have swept all before them so far in Wellington but they are returning home after a tough Quadrangular tournament in Christchurch midweek that saw them held to a 31-31 draw by Nelson College in the final on Wednesday. Wellington College gave away a 26-13, four tries to one, halftime lead against Nelson who came back in the second half to deny them their 10th consecutive outright quadrangular title. How will they pick themselves up?
Since losing to Wellington College 56-17 in week one and then to Scots College 29-15, Town have been on an upward trajectory and their only loss since was their heartbreaking 20-22 defeat to St Pat's Silverstream in their midweek traditional fixture two weeks ago.
The second schoolboy secondary semi-final is also a far from foregone conclusion, with second placed qualifier St Pat's Silverstream hosting third placed Scots College.
Silverstream were last year's beaten finalists and will be desperate to return to the big stage, while Scots College are appearing in their first semi-finals. Scots College play an entertaining brand of rugby and their fast paced backs led by tactician Jackson Garden-Bachop will look to run rings around the Silverstream team.
Silverstream won their round-robin encounter 16-12, but Scots outscored them two tries to one that day. Silverstream made a slow start to the season, but after beating Palmerston North Boys' High School for the first time in 10 years they have been building nicely. Both these teams will be keen to show what they are made of when they line up at 2.30pm at Silverstream.