1st XV Rugby Review and Players to Watch

– Article courtesy of College Sport Media

The College Sport First XV Premiership gets underway this weekend. Nine rounds await the 10 teams, leading to the final at Porirua Park on August 19. We run the rule over the contenders and highlight some players to keep an eye on.

Defending champions St Patrick’s Silverstream wear the favourites tag heading into the season, with a number of last year’s side back at the school and having won two of their three games in the Tranzit series over national champions Hastings Boys and last Friday night over Gisborne Boys, before Wednesday’s 22-10 win over New Plymouth Boys in their annual match. Silverstream will likely lean on their forward pack led by the school’s Head Boy Iona Apineru to pave the way, but have already suffered a major loss with NZ Schools flanker Josh Southall likely to miss most, if not all, of the season with a knee injury. Ironically his younger brother Mitch may benefit from that.

Scots College would seem to be the main challengers, and in contrast to Silverstream will look to employ an expansive game plan with plenty of speed out wide and a backline centered on captain Jaylen Tuapola with Ezekiel Fiso bringing the steel to the forward pack. It’s been a mixed bag results-wise so far however having been thrashed by St Kentigern’s in their annual Presbyterian Quad, and their Tranzit results saw them beat Gisborne, narrowly lose to Palmerston North, and succumb to Hastings last weekend.

Last year Wellington College and St Pat’s Town were beaten finalists and semi-finalists respectively. This year they might be doing well to make it back to the top four with both looking well down on where they have been in recent years. College in particular suffered a trying Tranzit series, losing all three matches by wide margins (20-57, 8-48, 3-40) and while Town did get in the winner’s circle that came against fill-in side Rathkeale College (while Hastings were in Japan at the Sanix tournament), and they likewise had heavy defeats against both Napier and Palmerston North Boys.

Youth is a feature of both teams with each having a clutch of Year 11 students.  On the Wellington College side is prop Toby Cook, with Town having inside back Khya Wilson and loose forward Tom Walsh.

The remaining six sides all won their way through the qualifier series. Wairarapa College and Porirua College both had last weekend off, having secured their returns in their first two games albeit in Wairarapa’s case it was by tie-breaker as their match with Rongotai finished in a 22-all draw. The Masterton school will be looking to crack the top four like they did in 2016, as well as making the trip over the Remutaka’s for visiting sides as difficult as possible though that does cut both ways.

Porirua made no race of their return, comfortably beating both Hutt Valley High and Kapiti College. It’s no real secret that they’ll play a physical game and very much what’s in front of them. They’ll fly the flag for the schools in the basin as the only one in the Premiership this year, and will look to retain both their local Beard Trophy and regional Co-ed Cup crowns as well as compete at this level. Try-scoring prop Taua Tonumaipe’a will be a handful.

Rongotai College had to work an extra week after being on the ‘losing’ end of their draw with Wairarapa two weeks but had no real difficulties easing past Aotea 48-21 last Saturday. Like Wairarapa they were part of the Tranzit series last year and would like to get back there again by finishing in the top-four this term. They’ll play a fast and loose style that could be both game-winning and an Achilles heel, and in Rheon Paul have their own speed merchant out wide.

Kapiti College also made use of their second chance and booked their return to the Premiership by beating Upper Hutt 29-12 on home soil, having gone down to Porirua the week before after an opening win over St Bernard’s. They will have to overcome the problem of not having either a second XV or U15 side for depth, but should provide dogged resistance and will be well up for games at home. Josh McCardle and Tane Hata will be important players in their forwards and backs respectively.

The last two sides in this year’s field both return after a season or two away, but also ran second and third in last year’s Premier 2 grade. St Bernard’s lost their first round match to Kapiti 14-30, but after they were defaulted to by Bishop Viard rebounded to edge Hutt Valley HS 20-19. They are perhaps the weakest team on paper and likely to struggle, but could spring a surprise or two.

Lastly Hutt International spent the early season on tour in South Africa, an experience that was as much a cultural one as sporting. They pushed Rongotai (20-29) in their opener before trouncing Mana 75-12 and then overcoming Tawa 31-15 to take their place in the Premiership for the first time since 2015. The halves pairing of Cam Ferreira and Sam Champion will bear watching while the side is led by prop/No8 Louis Calvert who delivered a lionhearted performance last weekend.

The first round of matches this weekend starts with Silverstream getting their title defence underway at St Bernard’s at 1pm. They’ll be followed by the remaining games at 2.30pm with Wellington College hosting Hutt International and Scots doing likewise with Porirua. St Pats Town head up to Raumati to take on Kapiti College and Rongotai are the first team to venture to Masterton and a meeting with Wairarapa. The second round starts on Wednesday when Wellington College and St Pats Town clash in the first of the years Traditional fixtures.

Premier 2 will also comprise 10 teams. Last year’s Premiership sides Tawa and Hutt Valley High drop down after their losses on Saturday while Upper Hutt, Onslow, and Paraparaumu make the climb up from Premier 3. They’ll join returnees Aotea and Taita and the second XV’s from Silverstream, Wellington College, and St Pats Town, with Silverstream looking to make it three titles in a row in the grade. The first round draw has the Silverstream and Wellington 2nd XV’s up first at 11am at Silverstream, followed by Paraparaumu hosting the St Pats Town 2nds at 1pm. The final three games are at 2.30pm with Tawa hosting Hutt Valley HS, Onslow travelling out to Upper Hutt, and Aotea at home against Taita with all three of these matches also doubling as Co-ed Cup matches.

Premiership draw: To view the draw and follow the competition click here

Players to watch:

Rocco Berry (Silverstream) – Man of the match in his school’s televised 26-14 win over Gisborne BHS last Friday night, Berry is a versatile outside back that has represented the Wellington U16’s and has pedigree being the son of former All Black Marty Berry.

Roderick Solo (Scots) – A standout at the Condor Sevens where his school finished runners-up and he made the tournament team, Solo is a national track champion so has speed to burn and will be a lethal finisher from fullback or the wing.

Ish Perkins (Wellington College) – Wherever he lines up in the backline he’ll be a threat to opposing defences with his ability to step off both feet and willingness to try and beat his marker. Likely to mostly start at first-five Perkins will have to be careful not to overplay his hand in a relatively small team.

Sam Donaldson (St Pat’s Town) – The openside is a robust defender who carries strongly. Sam’s older brother Zac played for Hawke’s Bay last year and his father Glenn coached Town to two Premiership titles.

Steven Va’a (Rongotai) – Powerful midfield back who brings experience and leadership. Va’a is in his third year in the First XV and this year’s captain, and part of the group that contested last year’s Condor Sevens Nationals in Auckland.

Sam Smith (Wairarapa) – This year’s captain, the No8 will be looked to provide go forward for his side. May be the best prospect to come out of the school since Levi Harmon and Bruce Kauika-Petersen, both of who have achieved representative honours since.

Jabez Peniata (Porirua) – The youngest player in this list, the Year 11 lock is an outstanding prospect and already has a year of Premiership rugby under his belt. A physical defender despite his age he was in the Wellington U16’s last year, and is still eligible for that side again in 2018.

Drew Wagg (Kapiti) – A natural player with great instincts the openside flanker is only Year 12, and skilled at both the breakdown and as a link player with his backline.

Sene Faasoa (St Bernard’s) – In his second year in the First XV the athletic Year 12 lock/flanker will get around the park and look to spark his team both on attack and defence. Was picked in the Wellington U16 squad last year.

Joel Cutler (HIBS) – Another openside flanker, Cutler is HIBS’ Head Boy in 2018. A tenacious player who will contest every breakdown he gets into, he also has an eye for the gap with ball in hand.