College rugby returns this week, with full slates of grading and preseason games on Saturday ahead of the start of competition proper, but for some school 1st XV’s that starts this afternoon with the first round of Co-ed Cup matches.
Tranzit Coachlines 1st XV Festival
Once again last year’s Premiership semi-finalists return to the top division by right, and will again take part in the Tranzit Coachlines-sponsored 1st XV Festival over the next three weekends. Now into its fourth year, these schools take on the four Hurricanes-region boys schools aligned to the central North Island Super 8 competition.
These matches are usually a good indicator of both form, and comparative ability and strength ahead of their respective competition seasons, as well as view towards possible matchups at the end of the season for the national Top Four qualification.
7 May – Rugby Institute Massey University: Wellington College vs Palmerston North BHS, St Pats Town vs Gisborne BHS, Scots vs Hastings BHS, Napier Boys vs St Pats Silverstream.
14 May – Petone Recreation Ground: St Pats Silverstream vs Gisborne BHS, Wellington College vs Napier BHS, Scots vs Palmerston North BHS. Westpac Stadium: St Pats Town vs Hastings BHS
21 May – Gisborne BHS: Scots vs Napier BHS, St Pats Silverstream vs Hastings BHS, Gisborne BHS vs Wellington College, St Pats Town vs Palmerston North BHS
Premier Grading Pools
The remaining college Premier grade (open weight) teams play over the next three weekends in a series of grading games to determine which division they will play in for 2016. The main focus is, as always, on those teams looking to secure the remaining four places in the Premiership.
Once again the format comprises sixteen first XV’s, seeded and placed into pools based on last year’s finishing position. Teams play the other three sides in their pool once each, with the pool winner qualifying for Premier 1, positions two and three being placed into Premier 2, and the bottom team into Premier 3.
A fifth pool, Pool E, contains the second XV's of the four major boys schools with the top two teams qualifying for Premier 2 and the other two placed in Premier 3.
Further sets of pools below these determine the remaining teams in Premier 3, as well as the 4th, 5th, and if needed, 6th divisions. For three first XV's - Heretaunga, Mana, and Naenae (returning after withdrawing their side last year) - the best they can achieve is qualification for Premier 3.
Rongotai College headlines Pool A and will be warm favourites to return to the Premiership with a side that contains plenty of players with experience at this level. Once again they will face Hutt Valley HS, with the two schools having mat at this stage in each of the last three seasons as well. Aotea College and Paraparaumu College round out the pool.
After their first season in the Wellington Premiership Wairarapa College fronts Pool B; last year they managed to beat Wellington College, but were also blown away by eventual winners St Pats Town 76-0 in their quarter-final. Porirua College shape as their most likely challengers with Onslow College and Kapiti College likely to battle it out for the second Premier 2 place.
Pool C shapes as an interesting, all-Hutt Valley, one. Hutt International are the Premiership incumbents but endured a trying season at that level, though have several members of last year’s side returning. Premier 2 runners-up St Bernard’s have turned over most of their team, while Upper Hutt College and Taita College – who haven’t played in even Premier 2 since 2013 – are somewhat unknown quantities.
Tawa College also played their first season in the top division for some years in 2015, though to return in 2016 from Pool D will be a challenge. Premier 2 and Co-ed Cup winners Bishop Viard have many of last year’s side back, and Premier 3 winners Wainuiomata HS will also fancy their chances. Premier 3 runners-up Newlands College are also in this pool, but may have more modest aims of making it into Premier 2 this year.
Week 1 schedule (home teams first, all matches kick-off at 2.30pm unless stated):
- Pool A: Paraparaumu vs Rongotai, Hutt Valley HS vs Aotea
- Pool B: Kapiti vs Wairarapa (1pm), Onslow vs Porirua
- Pool C: Taita vs HIBS, Upper Hutt vs St Bernard’s
- Pool D: Tawa vs Newlands, Bishop Viard v Wainuiomata
Three other grades – Under 15, Under 65kg, and Under 55kg – also get underway with grading matches this weekend, while the Under 80kg grade play a round of preseason games.
Underway this afternoon is the first games in the knockout Co-ed Cup. Open to Wellington’s co-educational schools, this culminates in a local final with the winners going forward as the regional representative into the Hurricanes zone phase, and potentially onwards to their National top four. Five games are scheduled, all kicking-off at 4.15pm (home teams first) – Hutt Valley HS vs Taita, Mana vs Tawa, Newlands vs Naenae, Onslow vs Aotea, Upper Hutt vs Wainuiomata – with a sixth game between holders Bishop Viard and Porirua to be played next week.
The schoolgirl’s game continues to grow, with the big move for 2016 the resurrection of 15-a-side games following last year’s increase to 12-a-side. The 15s grade (Premiership) has attracted six entrants including last year’s winners Aotea College, runners-up Wainuiomata HS, and Premier 2 winners St Mary’s. The 12-a-side format has been retained as Premier 2 which has five entrants, with seven teams in the 10-a-side Premier 3.