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Article by: Steven White
The Jubilee Cup takes pride of place at the back of the bar at the Cambridge Hotel, and the Old Boys University Goats are determined to let it stay there beyond August this year.
2016 Head Coach Jeremy Little explained there’s a good vibe at Goat HQ heading into the season, which kicks off on Good Friday, 25 March.
“Winning the Jubilee Cup last year was a bit of a monkey off the back.” Little said. “The lessons that we learned last season have been a lot easier to implement early in the pre-season this year. So we certainly seem a lot more prepared than what we were at this stage a year ago.”
“We are able to use that confidence of winning the Jubilee Cup to give us a bit of a lead-up into the new season in 2016.”
This weekend a combined OBU Premier and Premier Reserve squad heads to Taupo to play in the North Island Universities tournament, where they will play matches against the Auckland University and Manawatu Varsity clubs. Normally Waikato University would be there as well, but their club season starts this weekend.
The Goats squad will play 40 minutes against Varsity and 40 minutes against Auckland, who were beaten Gallaher Shield finalists on Eden Park in 2015
Little explained the importance of this weekend’s trip. “The NZU selectors use it as an opportunity to select their team to go on their tour [they went to Japan lastyear], while we use it as an opportunity for team bonding and it’s the last bit of our selection puzzle for the start of the Swindale Shield round.”
The club is eager to promote as many of these guys as they can to this team. “Our tertiary educated players are available for selection into the NZ Universities team (both senior and U23 grade). This team tours Japan, UK and USA at different times and is coached by some very high end coaches, so the players always come back better for the experience.”
Though not directly related to this weekend, the University and Wellington College Old Boys University clubs (merged in 1991 to form the present club) used to play in Universities and College Old Boys tournaments. The COB Easter Tournament was between WCOB, Dannevirke, Napier OB and Palmerston North HSOB. This has not been played since the amalgamation but the trophy is called the Bernie Furlong Trophy.
The North Island Universities tournament played for the Sir Humphrey O'Leary and Sir Alexander Johnston Cup.
In contemporary times, losing players to representative teams such as NZU is always a double edged sword for OBU.
On the one hand they’re promoting their players to representative rugby, on the other mid-season momentum is often disrupted. Last year OBU lost no fewer than nine players to representative teams bang smack in the middle of the season, to the NZU side (five players) and to the New Zealand U20s (four).
Although Little said the only OBU player who could be involved in the national U20s side this year is new hooker Marino Makaele Tu’u who has joined the club from Hastings Boys’ High, and who made the New Zealand Schools team last year.
In the Premiers, the bulk of last year’s Jubilee Cup winning pack returns in 2016. Notable absences include hooker Zeke Sopoaga joining his All Black brother Lima at Southland this year and Adam Cowboy Hill who has moved home to the family ranch in Queenstown. Rugged lock/flanker Ian Kennedy is expected to captain the side this year, in place of last year’s winning skipper Joe Beech who is currently overseas but returning when winter sets in.
It could be a new-look OBU backline that takes the field at Maidstone Park against the Upper Hutt Rams in the first round.
In some losses to the backs, cult hero fullback Sam Chamberlain has moved down to Tasman, Wes Goosen could be tied up with representative rugby for much of the season, Hamish Buick has moved to Australia, halfback Luke Campbell has joined the Bay of Plenty Steamers and Te Wehi Wright has moved to Waikato.
Little said three players who were cornerstones to last year’s winning side, right wing/fullback Joe Hill, halfback/first five-eighth Tomasi Palu and loosehead prop Finbarr Kerr-Newell are all back and raring to go. All three played for the Wellington Lions in last year’s NPC.
Some other players to watch include former Tasman U19 player Cory Whaatihi, Cody Quin from last year’s national champion Rotorua Boys’ High School unit, Jono Ihaka from the Manawatu Development Squad, Daven Candy who played for the OBU U21s last year, and 2015 Horowhenua-Kapiti Heartland provincial players, last year’s captain Anthony Fox and Teegan Minkley.
Little also noted the association with the university. “Our association with Victoria University gives us access to top class training facilities such as the Boyd Wilson artificial pitch, and use of the audio visual facilities in our team room. Vic uni is a keen supporter of OBU rugby and aim to keep the connection between sport and study alive. We don’t take our university roots for granted either. We enjoy the student lifestyle and mentality that brings, which is to enjoy your time here and achieve great things at the same time.”
This year Little will be the head coach, with Jamie Williams the backs coach and former Hurricane Bernie Upton taking charge of the forwards. Upton comes across from Marist St Pat’s where he has most recently been coaching their Premier Reserves after finishing his playing career as a Jubilee Cup winner in 2012.
“It’s a huge bonus to be able to bring Bernie Upton into our coaching group. Bernie and I last worked together 20 years ago when he was the lock for the Wellington U13 reps and I was the hooker. Bernie, Jamie, manager Pati and I are excited by the changes to the playing team which presents a different challenge to what was a very settled team last year.
“With Paddy Gough (2015 forwards coach) always available for advice, we feel like we have most bases covered. The party that we had after the Jubilee Cup victory should be all the motivation this playing group needs to try and achieve that again. However looking around, I do think that the level of club rugby in Wellington is always improving, so the challenge is immense. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Paddy now takes on an overall advisory role within the club, whilst former All Blacks halfback Dave Loveridge returns as OBU’s RDO.
After playing the Upper Hutt Rams away in their season opener, the Goats’ first home game of the season at Nairnville Park in round two is against Marist St Pat’s – in a re-match of last year’s final that was won 30-27 by OBU.
Last year OBU lost five of their first seven games before recovering to finish seventh in the Swindale Shield. They then won nine on the trot in the Jubilee Cup and won the championship for the first time in 50 years, after University had last won it in 1966.
Their Premier Reserves finished mid-table in their first round Harper Lock Shield competition, before winning the second round Ed Chaney Cup and beating the Upton-coached MSP side 20-10. The OBU Green Colts had won the U21 champiionship three years running before last year when they topped the table at the end of the round-robin only to be shocked into an 8-25 home semi-final defeat by the HOBM Junior Eagles.
OBU gains and losses 2016:
Out from last year’s Jubilee Cup winning squad
Zeke Sopoaga (Southland)
Joe Beech (OE – back at the end of the first round)
Adam Hill (Moved home to farm in Queenstown)
Luke Campbell (BoP Steamers)
Hamish Buick (Australia)
Te Wehi Wright (Waikato ITM Cup contract)
James Waddel (Auckland)
Sam Chamberlain (Tasman Development)
Danny Tusitala (Manu Samoa 7s and Samoa A – back hopefully end of first round)
Liam Doherty (Moved back to Waikato)
Mitch Clarke (Retired)
Morgan Poi (Moved home to Hawke’s Bay)
New players for 2016
Sam Dawson (Wellington Axemen, Wellington U19)
Junior Makapelu (Tawa)
Cory Whakatihi (Tasman U19)
Will Mangos (Waikato Development)
Daven Candy (Up from OBU U21s)
Marino Makaele Tu’u (HBHS, NZ Sec, NZ U20)
Manahe Moana (Up from OBU U21s)
Alex Ropeti (Poneke)
Jack Cooke (UK)
Luke Harvey (Returns from Horowhenua-Kapiti Heartland team)
Titapu Pairama Lewington (Returns from the UK)
Teegan Minkley (from HK heartland team)
Jono Ihaka (Manawatu Devevlopment)
Cody Quin (Rotorua Boys’ High School)
Anthony Fox (Horowhenua-Kapiti Heartland team’s captain)
Alex Coventry (Up from OBU U21s)